Three o’Clock in the Morning

Three in the morning,

an hour of woe,

Breathes heartache and mourning

and deepest sorrow.

Its minutes are counted

with seconds and sighs

As in blanket-mound bed

fears dance ‘fore sore eyes.

The moments just lumber-

a funeral dirge-

While we, seeking slumber,

turn, toss on its verge.

The stillness is silence

as cold as a tomb

Yet burns so intense

it crowds th’empty room.

No pillow can soften,

nor lullaby light,

The three o’clock coffin

of a restless night.

 

Advertisements

Requiem: a short story for a conservatory 

Note: any resemblance to real places and people is probably not coincidental. 😉 Enjoy!
                              Requiem



“Are the rumors true? Are they?” Trent, by far the youngest of the ghosts that inhabited Rowell Hall, rushed through a closed door and into the conservatory’s storage attic. His eyes were translucent yet pleading as they looked about the room for answers.

“Rumors?” the phantom of a tall man in a tuxedo, coat tails and all, stepped out from behind a moth-eaten curtain. Mr. Marvin, prior to becoming the eldest of the conservatory ghosts, had first been the eldest faculty member, ruling his orchestra with a baton of iron and a kind heart. “What rumors?”

“Don’t you know?” asked his late wife, Marie, peaking her nose through a cardboard castle from in a long-forgotten production of Camelot. “They are finally giving us that new building we asked for- I don’t know- fifty years ago. Or, at least, they’re giving it to the current students and faculty.”

“Yes! And that’s not all!” Trent all but shouted. “They’re set to demolish this building-”

“Next week,” cut in a smooth voice. The reigning concert mistress of the late 1970s floated in, her slight figure moving as gracefully in death as her bow strokes had in life. “About time, too. Finally the university cares enough to build a new music conservatory. When I went here it was already out-dated. Now- well-” she made a face of disgust “well, it’s practically demolished anyway.”

“Now you stop right there!” cried Mr. Marvin. “An attitude like that never flew in my orchestra and you know that quite well, Miss Nora! And for your information, they are constructing a new building, not a new conservatory. We were and always will be the foundation stones of the conservatory. We, the daring artists who have worked and studied here, are the conservatory; we created its legacy and remain its pillars.”

“Yes,” agreed his sweet wife, flicking away a tear which evaporated into the air. “It’s not the building; it’s the people.”

Another ghost had ascended from the stage below as the orchestra conductor was speaking. She let out a soft “harrumph” of disagreement as she rose from the floorboards. Trent started at the sound, still adjusting to the haunt life of having people appear where least expected.

“What?” he asked upon seeing the disagreement written on the newcomer’s face.

“Well,” began the ghost, a girl in a dark dress that, had she not been translucent, would have been black, “all that you two were saying is nice, but in case you haven’t noticed, we are all still here. In this place. When we could have been anywhere else. If it’s really just about the people, we wouldn’t be here again.”

“But could we really be anywhere else?” countered another ghost, who had been sitting quietly beneath a shelf in the corner. He emerged and stretched to his full height. In his hand, he clung to the score of the symphony he had died composing. He floated to the center of the room and continued his speech.

“Complain as we might have about the cramped practice rooms, the rats in the forgotten attic, the creaky stage, the overbooked performance hall, the drafty doorways…were was I? Oh yes. Complain as we might, this place has a hold on all of us. It shaped us. Sure, it’s small, but it brought us together. It’s old, but it connected the generations. It’s quirky, but it matches its residents. We worked and studied and performed here, but even more than that, we lived here and- even now- still do, in a way. We met our best friends here. We had fights here. We laughed and cried and danced and napped here. We suffered heartbreak and fell in love, all in this very building! All in this old, creaky, run-down, over-crowded building. Perhaps even because of it.”

“We are the legacy of this place, but it’s bricks built us,” whispered Marie Marvin in agreement.

The harrumphing ghost stared at the floor and, after a moment, gave a little nod. “I wore black nearly every day I was a student here, but it wasn’t because I was unhappy. I was just an accompanist.” She rolled her eyes humorously.

“Come to think of it, I was happy here. Busy, but happy… Anyway, do you think the pianos will be alright when they tear down the rest of the place?”

“I wouldn’t worry about the pianos, dear,” said Marie, her hand hovering over the accompanist’s arm to console her. “They can move them without any trouble. The organ, however…”

“What about the organ?” bellowed a voice that surrounded them. It might have been coming from below on the stage or above in the forgotten attic or the too-thin walls on all sides. But only Trent was surprised, for everyone else knew where the speaker’s ghost was hidden: inside the sixteen-foot principal pipe that sat nestled behind the stage among its dusty ranks. The organ itself had not been played since its former professor (now resident) had passed away, three decades prior.

“What about my pipe organ?” demanded the spirit of Dr. Humphrey again.

“W-well, sir,” stammered Trent when nobody else had the heart to answer. “They’re getting a new building, you see…so this one’s got to go and- well- it’s hard to move a full pipe organ and nobody really plays anymore so-”

“So the organ has to go down with the building like a captain with his ship. I suppose it’s fitting.” Resignation resonated in every word that Dr. Humphrey spoke. It was as if he had seen this coming long ago and ceased fighting, instead content to surrender with dignity to the loss of his building, instrument, and the era that they represented.

“A captain with his ship,” he repeated once more. The organist was not heard from again and the gathered ghosts knew that he had retreated deeper into his instrument, loyal to the end.

A thick silence fell over the room. Trent, in the habit of a lifelong brass player and percussionist, found himself counting rests as if afraid he might miss an entrance.

“Missed your cue!” shouted a short ghost with an impressive mustache, popping out behind poor Trent.

“Snap!” Trent flitted across the room in surprise. “Mr. Keller, you can’t do that!”

“What’s the fun of being a ghost, then?” chuckled Mr. Keller. He hovered crosslegged over a crate of old, probably-rotten stage makeup.

“How can you joke at a time like this?” The accompanist was biting back tears.

“How can you not?” he retaliated. “A good laugh and a long sleep make everything better. At least, according to the old Irish Proverb they do.”

“Long sleep,” laughed the composer. “As if anyone in this building has ever had a long sleep.”

The others laughed, but the tension settled quickly once more.

“So when do we go down?” asked Mr. Keller.

The concert mistress shot him a look of annoyance, bother by his tactless question. “You mean: ‘when does the building go down?’”

“Either way works, for I imagine we and the building are rather a packaged deal,” Mr. Marvin said. “And you yourself answered when.”

“Next week,” whispered the concert mistress. “That’s not long for the living, but for us- that’s scarcely the blink of an eye!”

The accompanist looked as though she could no longer support herself, despite being weightless, and somehow, she had turned a shade paler.

The violinist was right. Before any of them could process what was soon to happen- before a lament could be sung, an ethereal violin played, or a single, sorrowful note composed- the day arrived.

Gathered once again in the storage attic, the spirits of Rowell Hall reached for each other. Their hands, all yearning for the touch of their instruments, to take comfort in keys and strings beneath their fingers, settled for the cold fingers of their fellow phantoms. Silent, they swayed to the memory of a requiem they had all performed during their various times at the conservatory. They watched as the ceiling crumbled beneath them, revealing the splintering stage below. A small gasp rose from the bending organ pipes before the building, once so full of scales and songs, was consumed by the awful, cracking, screeching noise of its own destruction. It drowned out all else. All except the silent, fading requiem of the silent, fading conservatory ghosts.

The Same Sun

“There is nothing quite like the moment when an idea strikes and you can whip out your notebook and favorite pen and scrawl away for an hour. I’ve been going nonstop for weeks now and was overjoyed to have time to write something other than my 30 page political manifesto. (*cries from post-paper-writing trauma*) Anyway, this little story ties together some concepts from my philosophical readings and my own random questions with what I like to imagine is a Ray Bradbury-esque twist. Let me know what you think!

.

The Same Sun

The view was spectacular.  Almost enough to make one believe it had been painted, sculpted by some great cosmic artist rather than produced by blind nature with no talent but plenty of time.

Almost.

So Atlas thought to himself as he sat among the spectators, his fellow elite of the Earth. Those elite who, seven years ago, had fled to Mars to escape after some unknown thing had taken a large portion of the population. It might have been a disease. Or a secret enemy. Nobody stuck around to investigate.  All anyone remembered is that where one moment a man stood, the next he was gone. It had seemed so random; one janitor vanished, leaving a broom to fall unattended, while another continued mopping; one mother and child disappeared without a trace while another was left to rock her startled toddler; one surgeon asked for a scalpel and another turned to hand it to him only to find empty air.

Terrifying.

The wealthy did not care to investigate, seeing no explanations in accordance with their unbending logic. But even their logic was subject to fear, so they fled as far as they could from earth, desperate to avoid catching (or perhaps, being caught by) what became known as “the sudden death.” Of course, nobody knew for certain that the victims died, but what else happened when one disappeared?

That was seven years ago now.  Atlas and his partner, Eden, had fled along with the rest of their social class. With the vanishing of thousands followed so soon by the abandonment by the upper class, the oligarchies of earth fell into madness. Now,  Atlas sat in a stadium with hundreds of others, staring through telescopic glasses out across the solar system at a single bluish orb floating like a lonely teardrop in a dark sea. Earth.

“Beautiful view, isn’t it,” Eden said, sauntering up behind him and laying a red-lacquered hand on his arm. Her other hand clutched a wine glass. It was so full that only its magnetic rim kept its iron-laced contents from spilling over and onto her blouse.

“Yeah,” Atlas shrugged. “It’s something else.”

The solar system spread itself before him, a mobile of multicolored planets. He himself perched on the red one: Mars. The Martian Colonies had been experimental for decades. Now, though, with such a rapid influx of investments from the wealthy in their eagerness to escape the sudden death, it became not only livable but luxurious. Seemingly overnight, the industrial Martian Colonies transformed into what some called “New Vegas” and others- poetic from the combined effects of the change in gravity and the influence of Martian wine- called “Paradise.”

From where he sat in the bleachers,  Atlas scanned the planets and moons before him, shining gemstones set against the dark velvet of space. His eyes settled on the sapphire and topaz earth. He turned the dial on his glasses and zoomed in for a closer view of his native planet.

From afar, it was still beautiful. Almost enough to make him homesick for the greens of trees and of the sea near his home.  Almost. When he got a closer look, the feeling faded. Brown, dusty, and swarming with ants who were really men. Rough with the pockmarks of mines and the sharp scars of city skylines. Turning around and peering over the rim of his glasses, Atlas feasted his eyes – thirsty and sore from the sight of decrepit earth – on the artificial Martian oasis behind him. Without having to crane his head, he could see the lights of cabarets, smell the aroma of wine and food, and hear the ever-blasting bass of the Night-and-Day clubs.

Yes, this was better.

“Quake number 333 has struck earth,” announced a bored voice over the broadcasters. “Anytime now, the pious-” he pronounced this word with an audible sneer “- of earth expect it to happen.”

It…

Atlas’ mind flashed through months of news reports.

It.

The gathering of the pious.

The judgement of the wicked.

The end of the world…

Well…the end of earth at least.

An involuntary shudder ran through Atlas. He felt Eden’s nails tense around his bicep. He had forgotten she was there.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“Exactly,” she said, quirking what might have been a witty smile had she not already downed two glasses of wine. “Nothing.”

“What?” Atlas turned to her.

“Nothing. That’s what is going to happen. These people…the ‘faithful,’ the weak…they’ve been waiting and praying, counting signs and whispering that this thing they call ‘the Day’ is coming. But for what? Nothing. They’re hoping for paradise to come for them. Well, paradise is here!”
She threw out her arms as if to display to Atlas the splendors of Mars, her wine sloshing but stopping at the rim. She beamed, obviously proud of her quippy conclusion. She watched Atlas for a reaction, but, receiving none, lowered her arms and resumed her easy manner. She licked her lips as if savoring her own superiority along with the wine. Her sly mannerisms, usually so attractive, sent another shudder down Atlas’ spine.

“Then why are we watching?” he asked softly.

“What?”

“If nothing is going to happen, why are we here, on Mars, watching like a crowd at a football match, to see what happens? Why pay and wait to watch nothing?”

“Well…” Eden bit her lip. Her confusion was over in an instant, though, and she was all smiles once more. “It will be fun to watch them run about in confusion with nothing happens. Like ants when their hill collapses. Too bad we don’t have a magnifying glass big enough to make them sizzle just a little.”

She laughed at herself.

Atlas stared at her, his eyes wide behind his glasses. She always became a bit morbid at night but this…he shook himself. He was being silly. He was being illogical. Nature was all he saw, not a beautiful design. And nothing was all that would happen, not some wondrous conclusion to the story of earth.

That was all.

And yet…

“Reports of thunder are arising from every continent on Earth despite unusually clear skies,” drawled the voice of the broadcaster, sounding only slightly more interested in this new development.

The crowd barely paid any attention, but Atlas scanned Earth’s atmosphere. No signs of storms. Not even clouds over South America. And yet, the radio had said thunder?
“Suppose,” he faced Eden. His voice had come out too sharply. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Suppose something does happen. Suppose it happens.”

“Does it matter?” sighed Eden.

“Pretend it does.”

“Well,” she said, speaking as if to a child who had pestered her with too many questions already, “if something does happen, all the better for us! We have the best seats on Mars and are safe from anything on Earth.”

“Judgement.”

“Huh?”

“That’s what they – the weak- claim is coming. Judgement.”

“So what? We are here. Judge the Earth? By all means! Makes a better show for us on Mars. I swear,  Atlas, you’ve been in an odd mood all night. Want a sip?” She held out her nearly-empty cup.

“The cup of wrath shall be poured out,” Atlas murmured. He had heard someone say that once on Earth. He had laughed aloud at the time, but now something clenched inside his chest as he remembered the phrase.

“What? I swear…” Eden said again. “You are being awfully serious tonight. And not fun at all.”

She tossed aside the cup and folded her arms over her chest, pouting.  Atlas ignored her. Something else caught his eye. Clouds were gathering in the sky over Earth in one large mass. A hurricane? No, it could not be. It was too mountainous.

In his odd, fanciful mood,  Atlas thought briefly that the clouds looked exactly like a chariot, horses and all. He stared at them in wonder for a moment before, without warning, the sun burst from within them.

But…

The sun was not on Earth. It was just over there, behind him, closer to Mars than to Earth. And yet…

A deafening sound reverberated through the air, so strong that he only knew Eden had gasped by her open mouth. He gripped the armrests of his chair and focused his glasses in on the scene before him, aghast.

The trumpets blasted again, shaking him to the depths of his soul. That is, to the depths of his body. He knew rationally that men were animals with no souls. But he did not have time to reflect upon this before another sound crescendoed with the trumpets, surrounding him- and Mars- as well as Earth, from all sides.

He was trembling and, though his vision was unsteady and spotted by the afterimage of that glorious, inexplicable sun, he saw that Eden was shaking beside him. In fact,  Mars itself was shaking. They had watched dozens of Earthquakes from their safe, removed Paradise, through the lenses of telescopic glasses. But never, in the seven years since they had emigrated from Earth to Mars, had they felt their new planet – their world – quake beneath them.

The light of what could not possibly be the sun but could not be called otherwise became blinding. Atlas found that shutting his eyes did nothing against its radiance. He turned away. Behind him, he saw the lights of the cabaret flicker and go out. He watched as food carts, as if in slow motion, toppled and spilled their wares. He watched men stumble about, shocked at the magnificent and horrifying scene they had not expected to watch, let alone perform in. He saw women in ridiculous heels crumple to the ground, their men either letting them fall without noticing or going down with them and remaining on their knees, unable to rise.

Spiderweb cracks thickened and multiple across the gold-stoned street, spreading up over even the red stones of its buildings. The very sky seemed to crack as veins of that terrifying, wondrous light cut through the atmosphere of Mars like a sword, turning its rust-colored air blood red.

Atlas turned his face back toward Earth, but found the Sun instead. Its brilliance sent pain shooting through his skull. The thundering grew louder. It felt as if it were coming from within his own head. And then the thunder turned to the stampeding of horses. It had been horses all along, he realized, his logic forsaken. What use was logic now? His soul laughed bitterly at him, for he now knew without a doubt that he had a soul.

Another tremor shook the ground, yanking the chair out from under him and tossing him to his knees. He stayed down, no longer daring to stare into that all-consuming, burning, living light. He was a child who had tried too many times to look at the sun and he had finally learned.

Another trumpet blast sent his heart simultaneously up into his throat and down into his stomach. Ecstasy and agony fought in his chest and ended in a despair that could not even find relief in lament.

His mouth fell open and he felt sure he would be sick. But only a word fell out.

“Holy.”

The light flashed. He dared not move. Another trumpet blast sounded. The thundering hooves of horses were upon him. He felt, rather than saw, Eden fall beside him and had just enough time to think that it was almost funny: Paradise crumbling behind him and Eden collapsing beside him. 

Almost.

He could not laugh, though. He could only think over and over that they had been wrong. It had happened.

The Day had dawned.

Mars was no escape.

It was a different planet, but they shared a Sun.

The Day dawned for both Mars and Earth.

Awe and horror filled him, every corner of his body and soul felt ready to explode with the sensation, yet instead poured out in another despairing gasp of “Holy.”

And then, the Day burst forth as the Son rose completely. It had happened and all that remained were fear and trembling: trembling souls on a trembling planet, in the midst of a light they were unable to bear.

“Holy.”

Reflections on Writing a Novel Draft

During my journey home from Italy, I was super bored and, thus, my brain went crazy and came up with a novel idea that I am ridiculously excited about. Thankfully, I hit 50,000 words on my other novel draft, so I was able to set that one aside without too much guilt to begin this next project. While I am writing like mad to make sure I don’t forget my initial ideas, I have been trying to write more mindfully as well, meaning that I am writing with intentionality and observation. Basically, I am noting the quirks and tendencies I have as a writer, along with the surprises and mistakes.

For instance…

I have a knack for writing characters like me. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is not! Yes, I have written characters who resemble me in their appearance, fashion taste, sense of humor, hobbies, etc. and I need to steer clear of doing this too often or risk becoming predictable as an author. However, I have found that I also write characters who teach me about myself. For example, a cynical and morbid actor may not sound like me, but this particular character revealed to me some darker aspects of my own mind. (Don’t be scared; he’s not a bad guy.) Characters who I have tried to make unlike me have ended up like me in ways I did not intend, displaying through their traits and stories parts of myself that I did not even realize existed: apathy, romance, ambition, etc. all revealed themselves to me in my characters.

Continuing on, I have discovered that my life bleeds over into my fictional writing. I cannot control it. A barista from a coffee shop, a quirky house, a childhood friend, an overheard sentence, have all ended up in various stories of mine. I’m sorry if you read of a character that resembles you closely someday; I can’t really help it. I’ve found that I “collect” real-life characters and place them in fictional stories. As Sherlock Holmes once said, “life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.” I believe using aspects and people from the real world creates greater detail and intrigue in the fictional realm. 

The advice given by numerous authors to “write the book you want to read” is 150% valid. (please don’t attribute that quote to a single author; I’m pretty sure literally every successful writer has said something along those lines.) You know why assigned essays are not usually fun? Because 9 times out of 10, nobody wants to read your five paragraph essay on your three favorite foods. Actually, make that 10 times out of 10. Nobody cares. BUT, if you think of an idea that you wish to read about, why not write it yourself? When I find a book that fascinates me, I can’t stop reading. When I’ve thought of a story idea that fascinates me, the same principle is in place: I can’t stop writing. 

Despite being the author, I don’t know where every part of the story will go and I am as surprised by its twists and turns as I hope readers will be one day. It’s frustrating when plot points won’t connect or the timeline does not line up or characters decide to be fundamentally unlikeable. However, all of the struggles are forgotten the moment a character develops naturally or a plot twist generates itself or even when a particularly good bit of imagery paints itself. Writing is a constant adventure.

That about wraps up my reflections for now…oh wait! I have a couple more little tidbits that I have discovered over the past few days of writing:

  1. Writing time is like Narnia time in reverse; one minute of writing might actually be three hours of regular time. This can get out of hand very quickly.
  2. I feel guilty but a little bit cool every time I write a swear word, even if it is an edgy character saying it and not me. We’ll see if I let those stay in later drafts
  3. I have a morbid mind. Don’t ask. If this book makes it through publishing, you’ll see what I mean.
  4. It is possible to have a crush on your own character. The problem is if that character is based off a real person. (Not this time, though.)
  5. Netflix and writing go surprisingly well together. I managed to re-watch a season of Parks and Recreation and write 10,000 words in the same day. (Blame jet-lag for my laziness…)
  6. I get so enthusiastic about my ideas that I fear it borders on annoying. Sorry, everyone I’ve talked to in the past three days. If this ever gets published, you can have a free copy to read or burn depending on how obnoxious you found me.
  7. Coffee is writer fuel. One shot of espresso generates roughly 2,000 words. I’m open to donations of coffee money. The more coffee, the sooner this draft is finished.
  8. I write because I have to. I mean, I have no idea if anyone actually reads my blog posts regularly but I cannot help writing them. Words just build up inside my brain and if I don’t string them together into written sentences, I go crazy.

That’s all for now! If you read all the way to the end of this, do me a favor and like or comment or send me an appreciative message via carrier pigeon since I’d like to get an estimate as to how many people/who actually read(s) to the end of my articles. (See extra realization number 8) Thanks!

Okay bye for reals! Back to frantically typing my draft!

Writing Victories

Just had to brag a little bit:

Today marks the two-year birthday of my baby novel. On this day in 2014, I was inspired to write a book about a quirky little town that I stumbled upon and, to my delight, today I reached the word count required for my manuscript to qualify as a legitimate novel! And, to make matters even better (though admittedly a little bittersweet), I wrote my first death scene! This is quite a milestone in my life as a writer, so I thought I would write a little tribute here and publish one of my favorite scenes just to celebrate the occasion. Read on, if you’d like, to discover one chapter of Cobbly Nob.

 

Warning: the following chapter will be slightly confusing without any context, but nobody will probably read this far into this blog post anyway. (Let’s be honest.)

The Tea Scandal

Paige awoke to a light tapping on her bedroom door.

“Paige? You awake, honey?”

“Yes,” Paige croaked. She cleared her throat. “Yes, Mrs. Ellis!”

“We’re about to open for brunch; you’ve slept the morning away!”

“Oh!” Paige glanced at her phone. It was indeed past 10 o’clock. But if she had slept so long, why was her head pounding so mercilessly against her skull? Waking from a nightmare at the witching hour and banging her head on the ceiling had probably not done her any favors, but what she wanted more than anything was a strong cup of coffee.

“We saved you some breakfast, if you’d like!” continued Mrs. Ellis.

“And tea!” shouted Miss Linda from down the stairs in the kitchen.

“I’m up!” Paige sprung up, careful to mind her head, and promptly sat back down as the blood rushed from her head and her vision faded.

She threw on some clothes, tossed her hair up, and swiped some mascara on her pale lashes with the mechanical efficiency she had mastered during her senior year of high school during which she had had to get up at 5 o’clock and be at school within half an hour in order to take all of her electives.

She was greeted with “Good mornings” from Mrs. Ellis and Miss Linda, who she had taken to calling “the Hens” in her mind, as they fluttered about the kitchen. A plate of waffles waited at the counter for her, but she could hardly enjoy them in all of their syrupy, buttery goodness for the throbbing of her head.

“More tea, honey?” asked Miss Linda. Paige was not sure whether she was asking if she would like honey with her tea or whether the stiff “Grey Hen” was warming up to her enough to use a pet name.

“Yes, thank you.” Miss Linda poured her yet another – it was her third that morning alone- generous cup of tea and then allowed a thick stream of fresh honey to drip into it from the honeypot. So much for terms of endearment, thought Paige, sipping her tea and scalding her tongue.

Her head ached worse than it had only moments ago. Each morning at breakfast, one of the Hens would set a hearty plate of waffles or pancakes with bacon (or, more commonly in accordance with Southern hospitality and love of good vittles, both) and, with it, a steaming cup of tea. And Paige never seemed able to escape the humid kitchen, with its many delicious smells weaving together in a tapestry of scent she could feel on her skin, without having to swallow a second helping of some dish and at least two additional cups of tea. She suspected the Hens were trying to fatten her up, having overheard Mrs. Ellis worry that their guest was “as thin as a rail” although, despite being tall and lanky, she was quite average sized.

Despite these overwhelming servings of the best home-cooked meals she had ever eaten (she felt a bit like Scarlett O’Hara, enjoying the plenty of the Antebellum days), her head continued to throb with a pounding that crescendoed every moment. Four cups of tea and she was forced to recognize one undeniable truth: she needed coffee and only coffee. Strong, thick, black coffee bitter enough to jolt her awake and cure the throbbing.

“Coffee?” said Miss Linda when Paige mentioned it. Her angular face adopted an insulted look. “I’m afraid we do not have any.” She whisked away with her teapot with the same air of disappointment that Miss Dinah had displayed when she spoke of dog-people. Apparently to Miss Linda, coffee-drinkers were in the same category of offenders.

After that, Paige learned her lesson and for three more mornings did her best to savor the sweet tartness of the tea at breakfast and ignore the sharp ache in her skull throughout the rest of the day. She spent the afternoons of two of these days at the Blue Bookstore with Aunt Mary. However, sorting through the stuffy and poorly-lit aisles, filled with the wonder of books though they were, did nothing to help her plight. It was not until the fourth day- her fifth full day in Cobbly Nob- that Paige remembered the coffee shop, the Sock Monkey Cafe and Modern Art Gallery, that she had seen downtown. Henceforth it became her sole mission in life to visit that hallowed cafe and suddenly the cartoonish image of the Sock Monkey on the sign no longer seemed tacky but a sainted portrait.

“Morning! More tea?” a cheerful voice greeted her. Paige looked up from her book, Wuthering Heights, and was relieved to see Mrs. Ellis’s motherly face beaming down at her. How she was so energetic without coffee, Paige did not know, but she was glad at least that Miss Linda was not the one serving her breakfast this time, for it meant she could probably get away with only two cups of tea without upsetting her hosts.

She downed a plate of scrambled eggs so fluffy they were like pillows for the ham that nestled among them, flipped her book closed and tossed it into her messenger bag, and walked briskly out the door and down the road before the second kettle of tea could whistle at her to drink it.

Every two steps seemed to beat in time with her thoughts: “Cof-fee. Cof-fee.”

And then, there it was, in front of her, the cheesy red smile of the Sock Monkey on the sign. She pushed the door and prayed that it was open. It was. As she crossed the threshold, the dry, nutty scent of coffee grounds greeted her. She inhaled deeply- Oh, bliss! – and then marched up to the counter.

“A coffee please,” she said decisively, not even glancing at the menu and barely glancing at the barista. “Black.”

“Well you certainly know what you want,” laughed the employee behind the counter. He was the same young man who had said hello on her first day there, the day of her trip to Kat Kingdom. “You sure you don’t want some cream? Maybe make it a frappe?”

“No,” said Paige, annoyed. Honestly, just because she was a teenage girl did not mean she liked those frilly milkshakes wannabes. “Black.”

“Coming right up.” He did not dare laugh again, but Paige saw a twinkle in his eyes- which she also noticed were exceptionally brown…The color of a macchiato, she thought- as he took her money and handed her her fifteen cents change. She took a seat at the bar and withdrew Wuthering Heights from her bag.

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,” declared Catherine from the pages of the gothic novel. Paige, headache lulled to a dull groaning by the coffee-scented air, was captured by the passionate scene unfolding in the words of Emily Bronte. The decorations and sounds of the coffee shop, a quirky combination of Mardi-Gras and hipster chic, were forgotten.

“He does not know what being in love is?” wondered the hysterical heroine.

“No, he does not,” murmured Paige with a cynical smile. The love affair of Heathcliff and Catherine had never seemed to her as authentic as that of Anne and Gilbert, Elizabeth and Darcy, or even- reluctant as she was to admit it- Rhett and Scarlett. It was too…dramatic.

“Who does not what?” asked a tenor voice. She looked up and blinked, eyes adjusting from the black and white of the page to the reds and greens, golds and blues of the cafe. The boy from behind the counter slid a large mug, the face of the Sock Monkey printed on its side, under her nose.

“One moment,” she said. She lifted the mug to her lips and gulped at the coffee, wincing as she scalded her mouth, but swallowing anyway and sighing in satisfaction. “Bless coffee.”

The boy smiled at her, a silly half-grin that made his macchiato eyes light up. She was reminded of the twinkle lights she had seen him hanging the day before. “Who does not what?”

“Oh, sorry,” she looked down at her book. “I was talking to my book- I mean- myself.”

“What book?” Without waiting for her answer, he lifted the cover from the counter and scanned the title. He nodded. “Emily Bronte. Good choice.”

“You’ve read it?” she looked back up at him, more seriously now. After all, meeting someone who likes one of your favorite books is having a book recommend a person.

The boy nodded. “Literature course, senior year.”

“Nice,” Paige said. She took a more cautious sip of coffee and turned back to her novel.

“So who doesn’t what?” asked the young man.

“What?”

“You never answered my question except to say it was about your book.”

“Oh,” said Paige. “Heathcliff. He does not know how to love. His affair with Catherine is not love, but a futile passion as he projects his ideals of the perfect other onto her.”

“You sound just like my literature teacher.” The laughter was in his eyes again and Paige could not help watching it- it was so…she could not think of the word…refreshing? No. That wasn’t quite it. He noticed her gaze and she blinked, blushed, and tried once more to return to her book.

“So you agree with the teachers that Heathcliff was not really in love with Catherine?” he pressed.

“Yes,” she said, not allowing herself to look up again, her cheeks still hot, though she could not tell why exactly. Perhaps it was the coffee.

“Okay then…” he exaggerated a shrug and turned away. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Paige nodded, sipped her coffee, and reached blindly into her bag for a pen to highlight Catherine’s impassioned speech. Her fingers knew where to look: she always kept her favorite purple pen in the smallest inside pouch that was meant for a cell phone, but was rarely used for this purpose. Where was her phone anyway? Oh well. She’d find it later. Her hand found the pocket, stretched out from use, but it did not find the pen. She carefully lay the book face down with its covers splayed so her spot would not be lost, wincing as she did so at the crackling of its poor contorted spine. She looked in her bag. No pen.

“Stink it,” she muttered.

“Come again?” The boy looked up from where he was scribbling in a notepad the order of another customer.

“Nothing…actually, could I borrow a pen?” Paige asked, noticing the neat row of exactly eleven pens in his apron pocket.

“I’m afraid I don’t have an extra, but I can grab one from the kitchen.”

“Um…” said Paige, quirking an eyebrow at the collection neatly clipped into his apron.

“Oh these pens?” Mark followed her gaze. “These are mine, but I suppose I could lend one to you…”

“If you don’t mind terribly,” replied Paige with some sarcasm.

“Well I do mind, but not terribly I suppose.” He ran his finger along the tops of the pens, hovered over one in particular that to Paige was identical to the others, and carefully withdrew it without messing up the regimented lines of the others. He handed it to her and watched from across the counter as she drew a straight line underneath Catherine’s speech.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

“Thanks,” he said as she handed back the pen after drawing a large, bold question mark beside the passage. “Why the question mark?”

“Because I don’t understand it. That’s the point of a question mark, isn’t it?”

“What don’t you understand?” he asked, ignoring her sarcasm.

“This quote, but I’ll figure it out if I keep reading.”

“Read this book before?”

“Once.”

“Depressing choice for a reread, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I like it,” Paige said, tilting her nose a tad higher and meeting his eyes.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t good,” the boy’s eyes stared back into hers and seemed to laugh at her. “Just so…Gothic.”

Paige blinked. “It isn’t as Gothic as Frankenstein.”

“It has all the elements.”

“Meh,” said Paige.

“He knows the elements of gothic literature? Who even is this guy?” she thought. “And does he look a bit like Josh Groban…focus, Paige.” She imagined Scarlett O’Hara rolling her eyes and forced herself to focus.

“The ghost?” continued the boy.

“A dream,” said Paige, bored.

“The castle?”

“Not actually a castle.”

“Alright then. I’ll agree that Frankenstein is more Gothic, and add that it is a better study than Emily Bronte’s replica.”

“Replica!” Paige nearly spit out her coffee and closed the book.

“Yeah,” he said, casually flicking away the dripped coffee with a rag. “Emily’s writing is almost indistinguishable from her sister’s. Slip a chapter of Jane Eyre into Wuthering Heights and I wouldn’t even notice the difference. The female authors of that era tend to be so…the same. Poorly-worded statement, perhaps, but I think I am justified in saying that Mary Shelley broke the standard, especially considering her writing predates the identical Bronte triplets…er…sisters.” He grinned mischievously and Paige could tell he was relishing annoying her. Well, she relished a debate too.

“There may a family resemblance between the writing styles. So what? They lived and wrote at the same time, in the same family! Emily, however, was a one-hit wonder and Wuthering Heights is far more profound than Jane Eyre.” (Sorry Jane, thought Paige, wincing as a beloved character blinked back imaginary tears in her mind.)

“Oh is it?”

“Yes. The resolution for Jane Eyre was too neat. Sure, Rochester lost an arm, but everything was too happy, too unrealistic. On the other hand, Emily’s novel ends ambiguously, which offers a much richer study on not only its story but the world beyond its covers.”

“Interesting, but I believe we were talking about Frankenstein-”

“Oh don’t even get me started on that book, with Victor’s trembling and fevers always ruining the action. The only character development was a worsening of nerves. Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice might as well have played the role.”

“Let’s not drag poor Mrs. Bennet into this,” laughed the boy. “You really have no mercy on her poor nerves.” He said this in his best imitation of the nagging woman. And then Paige found herself laughing too.

“Sorry, I get a little intense about books,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee and nearly choking again as she laughed.

“Clearly,” said the boy, but he was smiling. He held out a hand. “Mark Turner.”

“Paige O’Connor.”

“Paige,” he repeated. “Fitting name for a bookworm.”

“Indeed.” He was still holding her hand. Blushing, she pulled it away and they both turned to their tasks: her to her book and him to his cleaning. She was quickly immersed in the chapter again and when she finished her coffee and looked away from the page, Mark was gone, but beside her was a single pen resting on a napkin, which bore a note in cramped writing:

For your annotations. I’d like to hear what insights you come up with. Also, not all love (in literature) is fake; you just have to find it. -Mark.

Paige bit her lip in thought, but also to keep from smiling, and slipped the napkin and pen into her bag. When she reached the Wild Plum, her smile had not yet faded as she replayed the conversation with Mark in her mind. Why did she feel so silly? It was ridiculous, but she could see Scarlett smiling slyly in her mind… 

Her smile faded upon entering the tea house.

“You!” said Miss Linda, in what could only be considered an angry squawk. “Where were you? Is that…” she inhaled deeply “coffee that I smell?”

“Oh, yeah…” Paige said. “I stopped by the Sock Monkey for a cup.”

“Well I suppose you won’t be wanting any of the tea I just brewed then.” It was not a question, so Paige just stared back apologetically until Miss Linda clucked sorrowfully and retreated to the kitchen.

The next morning at breakfast, no tea was offered. Rather, Miss Linda, without a word, set down a tin cup of room-temperature water. Paige fought the urge to laugh and looked toward Mrs. Ellis, always such a cheerful sight in the morning as she fried bacon and picked lovingly on her husband’s manners, but caught herself at the equally serious expression on the “Red Hen’s” face. Suddenly her plans to return to the Sock Monkey, both with the purpose of finding coffee and meeting Mark again, were dismissed from her mind as impossible.

 

A Bigfoot Story

I’m currently on vacation in Montana with my family, staying in a charming cabin near Glacier National Park. The cabin has a guestbook in which visitors are asked to record the highlights of their stay. In flipping through it I became bored immediately. Most people wrote things like this: 

“Ate pizza and went skiing. Fun times! Lovely cabin. Thanks!”

“Met some fellow Canadians while in the hot tub. The weather was excellent.”

“Went hiking with some goats. Ice cream shop in town was good.”

“Thought we saw a bear. False alarm. Lol.”

 
Dull, right?! Well, being a writer and, admittedly, a Bigfoot enthusiast, I had to do something to break up this pattern of lameness… It is with great pride and no small amount of humor that I present to you my vacation log. It is my hope that it will entertain and frighten guests long after I depart this place. 😈





Hopefully the owners don’t mind that I took up so many pages in their book… But if they are annoyed, they can email me at PrincessBigfoot42@gmail.com, which is indeed a real email. 😎