Monologue #29 – Crystal

Several years ago I took in a basset/beagle mix named Crystal that was between three and five years old.  She had been born and raised in a kennel and for a long time had been the only female.  Her environment was roomy and warm with plenty of food and water, and lots of exercise. She was part of a group that had been used expressly for hunting purposes so her dog/human social skills were never really developed.  Crystal’s owners ran into some hard times and were forced to find homes for their dogs. Agreeing to take this shy, skittish, hard to love hound into my home turned out to be a decision that would forever alter how I viewed life and social structure.  

Getting her into my truck for transport home was challenging.  Unlike other dogs I’d had, she wanted nothing to do with ‘going for a ride’ which meant I had to bodily pick her up and put her into the cab.  Crystal had the body and legs of her father, very basset-esque, with the ears and shorter nose of her mother.  Picking her up was a lot like trying to heft a fifty pound sack of jello; the weight oozed to the bottom and she would try to slide away.  And I had completely underestimated those short, basset legs!  All four of them morphed into go-go-gadget arms with the strength and resilience of one hundred cats trying to stay out of the bath water.  By the time I was finally ready to drive away with her, she was hunched and trembling on the floor of the passenger side, completely withdrawn and unresponsive.  I was huffing in the driver’s seat with sweat trickling down my face and under my pits, and a couple shallow gouge marks on my arms from her nails.  I had won the first battle.  Feeling magnanimous I leaned over and gave her a reassuring pat on the head.  It was okay to be scared, I was there to support her.  We were in this together.  Everything would be fine.

Introducing her to the group at home was rudely done on my part.  I walked her into the house and took the leash off.  My old Spaniel came skidding into the kitchen and promptly smothered Crystal with his snuffling excitement.  Frodo, my small, gentle, gray tabby was the only one of the two felines that could associate with dogs without hating himself for it later.  He eventually adopted Crystal as his own.  That first day though was a lot like trying to get a fat slug out of a too small hole.  Crystal found a corner in my bedroom and curled up in a ball, refusing to have anything to do with anyone.

Once the novelty of the new addition wore off, life settled into something of a disturbing routine.  Wake up, let the dogs outside to run around and take care of business while I filled the food dishes.  Let the dogs back in to eat.  Get ready for work.  Mop up the puddle of dog piss on the dining room carpet that Crystal dumped there when she was done with her breakfast.  Go to work. Return from work.  Let the dogs out.  Mop up more piss in the dining room.  Let the dogs back in.  Eat dinner.  Watch television or whatever was my thing that night.  Maybe mop up more piss.  Go to bed.  Repeat.  In between all of that I petted and played with my animals, scratching behind their ears and rubbing their bellies, and gave them all treats and toys.  Through it all, Crystal refused to like anything. She didn’t approve of me petting her and looked like a flipped over beetle whenever I tried to rub her belly.  She would tighten every muscle in resistance and stretch her neck as far as it would go and stare, white eyed, into the abyss the whole time.  Feeling like I was violating her somehow, I eventually stopped trying.  Besides, being able to pet her was the lesser of the problems.

For some reason Crystal refused to alert me when she needed to pee.  Believing she was just socially awkward from living in a kennel where she had clear, immediate access to the outside when she needed to relieve herself,  I tried numerous things to get her to housebreak.  I tried letting her out more often.  I tried using the Spaniel to show her how to get excited about going outside.  I mopped with paper towels and took them, and her outside together to show her where the pee needed to be.  I even put a small bell on the door and tried to get her to hit it with her nose to signal her need.  The bell was the suggestion of my vet.  She thought Crystal’s shyness might be inhibiting her ability to just ‘ask’ to go out.  Giving her a bell to ring was a way for her to communicate without having to come to me directly.  It was also an effective way for the cats to exercise their musical talents.  Nothing worked.  Six months into this and I was pulling out my hair and losing my temper.  Dogs were a fact of my life.  My family had always had one.  I had never had a dog that wouldn’t housebreak.  My vet was out of suggestions and the carpet cleaning attachments for my vacuum were getting some serious game time.  

The thought that ran through my mind the most during this period was that Crystal was a product of kennel life.  She had never had to think about her needs before.  I tried very hard to understand what the difference must be like for her.  To go from doing as she pleased to being asked to, essentially perform a task, must be like me asking a Queen to get me a glass of water.  Oh… oh… OH! Lightning stuck and I felt my mind open.

The problem wasn’t about housebreaking at all, it was about Crystal being the only female in the kennel I had gotten her from.  She really was a Queen!  Being the alpha female of her previous home by default, she didn’t understand that she was no longer the boss.  She wasn’t peeing on my carpet because she needed to, she was doing it to mark her new territory… MY territory.  Oh crap.  Did this mean I needed to pee on my own floor?  The idea of fighting fire with fire was not something I could get behind.  There had to be another way.

I spent a couple days thinking things over and studying Crystal’s behavior very closely.  The plan that was forming in my mind was daunting and would undoubtedly leave emotional residue on everything so I wanted to be positive it needed to be done before I started.  She held herself above the pack, forcing them to leave her alone.  She never played with the other dog or even acknowledged the cats.  The only toy she had any interest in was a stuffed, blue frog which she took to her sleeping place and used for a pillow, never allowing it to be part of the toy box.  When she peed on the carpet it was always after she returned from being outside, as if she needed to re-establish herself in case someone had gotten the wrong idea while she was gone.  At feeding times she inhaled all of her food at once, a move that had an odd, mirroring effect on my gentle Spaniel.  I watched and I learned.

As I said earlier, my family had always had dogs.  As a kid I played with the family dog and took it for walks without ever thinking about how the dog might have felt about me.  A domestic dog, raised among people was just another member of the family.  A domestic dog raised among other dogs, away from people was a different story altogether.  Dogs like that don’t speak people.  They never learned our language.  In order to get my point across to Crystal I needed to open a line of communication that she would understand. Since she didn’t speak my language, I had to speak hers.

The day I changed everything was a Friday.  I had the whole weekend to be front and center in Crystal’s face.  When I woke up I let the dogs out as usual, but only filled one dish with food, leaving Crystal’s empty on the floor.  When I let them back inside I stood guard over my Spaniel, growling at Crystal to keep her away while he ate.  When everyone, including myself, had finished their meals I fed Crystal.  Later, during a playtime when I saw her slinking away to the bedroom, I stalked in there, pushed her off the bed I had given her and sat on it myself with my hand firmly and visibly holding down the blue frog.  The confusion on her face as she processed what she was seeing was heartbreaking.  Finally she went into the bathroom and laid down on the small rug by the tub.  I followed her and pushed her off, then sat on it myself, growling and showing my teeth the whole time.

I spent the entire weekend showing preference to the other animals and made clear, unarguable claims to everything she touched.  The final straw was the computer room.  I spent a lot of time in there.  My Spaniel and Frodo would usually come and hang out with me while I worked on things or played games.  Curious about the attraction Crystal had taken to laying in the hallway just outside the door, out of sight, but near enough that she could keep an eye on things.  The tags on her collar made a soft chiming sound whenever she moved around so I could tell when she was approaching.  I chased her away from the door, barking and growling like an idiot.  She fled to the bedroom.  After a few minutes the Spaniel returned and I went back to what I was doing.  Crystal came slinking back down the hall.  I chased her away again.  She didn’t try a third time.

By Sunday night I was emotionally exhausted and my throat was raw from all the growling.  I was doing some laundry and folding things on the couch while I watched television.  Taking a break I went to the kitchen and made myself a sandwich.  When I returned to the couch with my plate the Spaniel promptly plunked himself at my feet and stared excitedly at me while I chewed.  From the corner of my eye I caught sight of Crystal moving carefully through the kitchen.  She stopped at the doorway and looked at me with my food, and the Spaniel sitting there waiting for some.  She dropped her head and walked into the bedroom without another glance.  She had accepted her place.  I set my sandwich down and let my tears fall.  The war was over.

I stopped being a jerk to her, but I also never allowed the chain of command to be broken.  She always had a very clear picture of where she was on the pole of authority. The massive effort it took to get my point across has never left me.  Crystal never again peed on my floor and even started being a little social.  I let her have her frog back and she took it everywhere.  When it became too worn I replaced it with a similar model in green.  She accepted it without argument and took it to her bed.  Frodo started sleeping with her.  I know she liked him; they were secret friends.  Eventually I even managed to get her to stop being hysterical every time I needed to put her in the truck.  I can’t say she came to enjoy the rides, but she did get enough of a grip to be able to sit on the seat and look out the windows without shaking herself apart.  My Spaniel passed away during the next year which moved Crystal up the chain.  I was alerted to her knowledge of this fact when I heard her tags chiming outside the computer room.  She had given the hallway a wide berth since our restructuring.  With the Spaniel gone, it was her right to take his place.  She looked positively terrified when I came out of the room, but she held her ground.  I patted her on the head and scratched her ears then walked back into the room without further comment.  She laid down in the hall and watched things.

Eventually I decided to move to Milwaukee and into an apartment.  I wasn’t sure about how this would work out for Crystal and was discussing it with my mother.  To my surprise, mom felt very strongly that she should keep my dog.  She knew the struggle Crystal and I had been through together and understood the way things needed to be for her.  She was also a familiar person to Crystal.  Surprised by this revelation, I thought it over.  Being shy and skittish, my little ba/gel was extremely anti-social with strangers. Anytime I had company she would pace around and stare sullenly at everyone from a distance, never allowing anyone to actually befriend her or give her a pat.  It was commonplace to see her snatch up her frog and hide in the bedroom until the company left.  She also barked at leaves and wind.  My garage motion light would flash on every so often on stormy nights and Crystal would lose her mind sounding an alert.  Mom had worked hard at getting to know Crystal and really felt it would be better for everyone if she didn’t make the move to the city with me.  There was also the hinted-at-fact that my mom would be alone once I was gone.  I agreed to mom’s request and let her become Crystal’s keeper.

On moving day I took Crystal and her belongings to mom’s house and got everything set up.  The coup de grace was putting the stuffed frog on her bed.  Crystal looked at me in shock and began to tremble.  She knew I was leaving her.  I dropped to my knees and hugged her rigid body, petting her and rubbing her ears while my tears fell on her head.  Despite our stormy beginnings we had formed a tight and unusual bond.  I had no happy memories of playing catch with her or chasing each other around in the yard.  My happy memories were the ones where I was able to pet her for the first time and see that she was okay with it; the first time she actually came to me and rested her head on my knee; the first time she took a treat directly from my hand; and discovering that the reason she had become less grumpy about me trimming her nails was because of the treat she got when it was over.  She had never managed to become what I would call a family pet, but she had become my dog and I was her person.  Leaving her felt awful.  Frodo cried and looked for her for months, searching all the corners of our Milwaukee apartment.

Over the next five years my mother regaled me with stories of Crystal and her awkward social graces.  She kept me updated on her health issues as she aged and asked my thoughts on treatments and things.  When Crystal misplaced her frog my mother was beside herself with concern.  My ba/gel became depressed and barely budged from her bed for days.  Mom searched everywhere.  Eventually she thought to pull the couch away from the wall and discovered the frog wedged under one end.  According to mom, Crystal saw the frog and came flying off her bed, her whole body wiggling and tail whipping behind.  Mom said it was the most genuine excitement she had ever seen in her.

The day came when mom called and said she thought Crystal was reaching the end.  We guessed her age to be close to fifteen years at that point.  She had developed dietary issues and arthritis as well as having random growths sprout up that had to be removed.  Her muzzle was completely white.  Storms rarely bothered her anymore.  Mom said she would come home from work and actually be fully inside the house before Crystal would open her eyes and look up, bleary and tired.  It took a bit, but I came to understand that mom wanted me to tell her it was okay to let Crystal go.

Three years have gone by since Crystal left and I still have strong feelings about her.  She left a huge mark on my mother and me.  We often talk about her strange behaviors and share some laughs over her and the frog.  I sometimes wonder if she had any feelings about her life with us?  I’m sure she missed her kennel mates for a while.  Hopefully my mixed pack of critters made her feel less out of place.  Considering how well she took to singular life with my mother, I think she may have been less territorial had she not had to face a group in the beginning. She is truly missed and well remembered.

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Monologue #28 – Lost Anger

A funny thing happened on the way to self-employment.  I lost a lot of my anger. I noticed it a lot in the way I write.  Prior to these past few months everything I wrote had angry blasts of rage and unhappiness in it and my personal Muse was constantly smacking me on the head.  Now I write at a steadier pace with much less red in my eyes and my written work is far more crafted and thoughtful. I’ve been working diligently on my book Smashing Pumpkins as well as working on a couple pieces that I intend to submit somewhere, so I’m definitely not sitting on my hands.  There’s also this strange occurance of friends. I’ve got some now. I’m not sure how to handle that so I’m just drifting along with it, learning how to be a participant in things that I like with people who don’t offend me just by breathing in and out. It’s funny to me to discover that most of the people I called ‘friend’ from my old job were really just people I was desperately willing to bond with over a shared misery as opposed to folks that genuinely shared a common interest with me.  I haven’t dropped all of my prior ‘friends’. There are a few that have stayed with me, snuggled into secret spots in my heart like worms, and I intend to keep them there. It’s just so different to discover that I can actually choose who to spend time with now as opposed to grabbing at whomever was available.

The lack of anger in my writing is most noticeable to me in my choice of verbs and adjectives.  I’ll write a sentence, then go back and change or remove most of the action descriptors to more realistic choices, slowing down the frantic pace of activity and emotion.  When I go back through some of the shorts I’ve written for this blog I am actually rolling my eyes at myself and snickering. Not being mad all time has opened a whole new level of writing for me that I’m a super happy with.  I feel like I have finally leveled up.

Before I go, a quick note about Easter candy.  DON’T DO IT! I actually made myself sick with it.  For some reason I released my inner candy demon and let it charge, face first, through a pile of candy.  I spent that night and the next day SICK. Ugh! If I see another chocolate bunny or cream filled egg anywhere near my mouth I’m stabbing it to death with a soldering iron.  Gah! I’m too old for that stuff. I know better. (facepalm of shame)

My Thoughts on The Shape of Water

So, I took my wife to see this movie the other day, and while I couldn’t get into the whole ‘sex with an amphibian’ idea I did find the whole thing interesting as a thought project.  After reading Guillermo del Toro’s article on the film and what it meant to him to create it, I find myself still not quite reaching the same conclusions.  I believe that is the beauty of a well crafted film or story, we can all relate to it in different ways.  The events I’m about to cover are not necessarily chronological so please don’t spam me over the way I’m presenting things.

In my world, a place filled with ghosts and psychics and tarot cards, water is a significant symbol for emotions and longing; a dream for something that is not already present.  The title of the movie is a huge indicator for me that what I am about to see is not a reality in its most literal form.  The opening scene backs this up by showing a home filled with water and all the contents are floating.  As the credits fade out, the floating furniture begins to assemble itself properly; lamps and photos come together with tables, chairs align within the kitchen, and a sleeping woman lands gently upon the couch as oxygen separates from hydrogen and the sentient creatures of the planet begin to go about their day.

1962 is the year.  The first character we see is a woman who we learn is named Elisa.  She is mute.  She also has a strong attraction to hard boiled eggs and masturbating in her bath water to a literal egg timer.  I’m thinking of a three minute egg here.  How is that even possible?  Elisa lives in one side of a split apartment next to Giles.  We meet him after the egg timer goes off.  She slaps two of the four eggs she just boiled onto a plate with half of the sandwich she prepares and takes it to him.  The other two eggs and the rest of the sandwich are packed into a brown lunch bag that goes with her to her job.

This is where I begin to think the movie isn’t about Elisa at all, but rather Giles himself.  He is the voice of the narrator.  He is the artist who is starving.  He is a recovering alcoholic and… Giles is gay!  Evidently everything is forgivable but the last one.

As a mute, Elisa uses sign language and her lines are captioned on the screen.  There are only two people in the entire movie who actually talk with her, Giles and Zelda.  Zelda, played by actress Octavia Spencer, appears to be Elisa’s only female friend.  I spent more than a few minutes waiting for her deliver another victoriously brutal line that I could whip out at a moments notice to impress my friends and family with.  I was disappointed.  Of course Octavia wasn’t the lead role here so I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up in the first place.  Still, her role as Elisa’s interpreter at their job in a super secret government laboratory was quite meaningful to me in the end.

In this super secret government laboratory (in my mind I’m pronouncing that as lah-bore-a-tor-ee because it’s fun to say it that way) we meet several males in various positions of importance.  Elisa and Zelda are part of the janitorial crew for the facility.  Evidently Elisa is habitually late for work, a fact that is pointed out by another of the ladies on the crew who is irritated by Zelda holding up the line to the time clock so Elisa can take cuts and punch in.  While our social climate is riddled with people being offended I cannot pull gloss over a few facts of the movie here.  The angry lady is black, Zelda is black, Elisa is not black and she’s a mute.  The angry lady calls Elisa a dummy and talks down to Zelda for coddling her.  Why is this important?  The socio economic climate of this film makes a few biting statements regarding race and sexual preference.  To have the main character despised and coddled by members of a different race places her at the bottom of the human totem pole.  This is driven home later in the film by a weird diner scene.  It’s not as weird as the water filled bathroom scene, but it’s still weird.

The super secret government laboratory gets a new toy.  It’s surrounded by armed guards and mystery and it’s kept in a tank filled with water.  Elisa is drawn to the tank like a fish is drawn to water… oops, I may have given something away there.  The creature in the tank turns out to be The Creature From The Black Lagoon from 1954.  He looks great!  Man, this guy has aged fabulously.  As it turns out, there’s a reason he looks so good, he’s actually been living in a south american river all this time and being worshipped as a god.  He has some killer regenerative abilities.  He also has some pheremones that seep through heavy glass and iron.  Elisa gets one look at this monster and sets her egg timer.

It’s valuable to note here the treatment of this creature.  He is sentient and a very unwilling captive.  He also lacks the ability to effectively communicate with his captors.  He is chained, tortured and studied.  He is also despised.  Then he becomes coddled by Elisa.  Despised and coddled.  I believe I said those words before about something else.

As it turns out, Elisa is able to secretly teach the creature some sign language and get him to eat her eggs.  Of course the language of sexual attraction doesn’t need words so a lot of things go unsaid.  And before you beat yourself senseless with what I’m implying here, the answer is YES!  I know, I was astounded at it too, but who am I to judge?  The creature is clearly sentient and made its choice.  It’s not like Elisa busted out a jar of peanut butter and coerced him.  She was even kind enough to provide a visual to Zelda on exactly how the amphibious penis was accessible.

Let’s drift back to Giles now.  In my mind, he is the real main character of this story.  While Elisa is making googly eyes at the gilman, Giles is doing his best to get work as an advertising artist.  He is working furiously on an picture of a lovely American family being happy about a ring of red jello.  He thinks it’s some of his best work.  When he tries to sell the piece to an agency that he’s obviously worked for in the past he is told to make the family in the picture happier with bigger smiles and to make the jello green instead of red.  He is also reminded that he is an alcoholic.  The whole scene leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Whatever trouble Giles’ drinking caused him in the past it’s not going to go away quietly.  You get the sense he is banging his head on a locked door.

Now we can talk about the diner.  Giles takes Elisa to a small diner to get some key lime pie.  This pie is the color of green that you would find on an aerial photo of the ocean.  The color is beautiful in its natural setting, but looks deeply traumatic as pie.  As it turns out, it’s not really the pie that has attracted Giles to the diner, it’s the man working the counter.  This is where we find out that Giles is homosexual.  He wants this man in a big way and has an entire refrigerator full of slices of sea green key lime pie to prove it.

On a solo return trip to the diner Giles tries to open a door between himself and the man behind the counter.  He is instantly shot down and there is nothing gentle about it.  The only saving grace for Giles is the black couple who enter and try to sit at the counter to order.  The man behind the counter is savage to them about not sitting down and they leave the diner.  Once they’re gone he tells Giles, who has been sitting at the counter all this time, to get out also, that the diner is a family place.  I guess by waiting until the couple were already gone the man behind the counter was acknowledging that gay white guys deserve a bit more respect than black people even though they are equally undesirable inside the diner and at the counter.  

While Giles is being abused both professionally and personally, Elisa is plotting to steal her amphibious lover away from the super secret government laboratory and hide it in her bathtub.  Giles agrees to drive the getaway van and applies his artistic talent to faking an ID that will get him through the gate.  He thinks it’s some of his best work.  Elisa finds surprise assistance from Zelda who is never far away from her friend at work, and is gifted with a box of bath beads from a secret Russian scientist named Hoffstetler who is hiding his true identity because – Cold War, eh?  The bath beads are evidently necessary to properly condition the water in Elisa’s bathtub so the gilman doesn’t die.  I encourage you to really think about this scenario for a moment.  The gilman is easily six feet tall.  He is broad shouldered and aggressive.  He has gills and fins and webbed toes and hands.  Elisa is going to put him in her bathtub and keep him there for a specified amount of time that spans several days.  It’s not like he’s a guppy.  The gilman is muscular and needs to eat something other than hard boiled eggs.  He’s also sentient.  Living in a small bathtub is going to bore the crap out of him.  And I don’t believe that Elisa can afford to keep this creature for more than a couple days or it will starve to death once it has worked its way through Giles’ many cats.  One becomes an hors devour early on but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone too much.  Maybe the snack cat was a bitch?

In the end, Elisa and Giles manage to get the creature down to the local canal that swelled tremendously in size due to some heavy rainfall.  I believe the canal leads out to the ocean and the plan is for the creature to just make a getaway.  The problem is the super secret government facility has been looking for it.  They find it just before it jumps into the canal and everyone gets shot a few times.  The creature looks dead for a couple minutes, then uses its amphibian super power of regeneration to heal itself.  It stands up, wipes off the bullet holes, then slashes the throat of the jackass that shot it.  While Giles watches, the gilman then picks up the shot (and maybe dead) Elisa and jumps into the canal with her.  We are then treated to the sight of her neck opening into gills so she can breathe and her eyes open.  She gets to live happily ever after with the gilman.

Obviously I’ve left a few things out here.  Let me clarify about Elisa’s gills.  She was an orphan who was found in water with three cuts on both sides of her neck that healed over into scars.  I think we are supposed to make the association that she is a crossbreed.  This would explain her inability to speak and her egg timer fixation.  However, it also brings up the question about her father.  Wouldn’t it be the gilman himself?  He seems to be the only one of his kind.  My wife insists that there might be other gilmen out there.  Just because we only see one doesn’t mean there aren’t others.  I see the point, but I still want to be appalled.

Incest aside, let me lay out what I think the film is really about.  I’ve already stated that Giles is the narrator of this tale.  He doesn’t narrate a lot, but it’s enough to let you know that he’s the one telling it.  The apartment he lives in is literally cut in half, each half with its own door.  Elisa lives in one half and he in the other.  I see Elisa as the manifestation of his homosexual needs.  He can’t speak of them and he must act on them in secret or risk being ridiculed and abused by his fellow man.  I believe what Giles wants is a family.  He longs for a white picket fence world with kids and a husband, someone to love and respect him and who will sit down to dinner at a table like a real family would.  All those eggs and the timer are a symbol for his own biological clock that is ticking futilely away.  By paring Eisa with Zelda you can see exactly where Giles feels his innermost desire rates on the social scale.  

Our human brains have a root brain that comes from the amphibian days of our evolution, back when we first crawled out of the sea and began to breath air.  Nowadays it is referred to as the reptilian brain, but without the amphibian beginning we would all still be bottom feeders.  Giles has reached a point in his isolated misery when his sentience is breaking down.  He is losing his ability to think like a human and has become trapped by his own reactions.  Elisa has become his silent voice of freedom.

Whether Guillermo del Toro intended the things I have taken from his film is anybody’s guess.  As I said at the beginning, in my world water is a symbol for emotion and desire and that is clearly what I see in every aspect of this film.  I feel ill equipped to view this story as a fairy tale.  To me it will never be some reptilian form of Beauty and the Beast.  Still, I found a lot to like about this story despite my aversion to some of the elements.  And my wife absolutely loved it.  If she is happy then I am happy.  All is right in the world.

Peace out my peeps!

Liebster Award!

I got an email the other day telling me I had been nominated for a Liebster Award.  Having not encountered this particular creature before I sought the knowledge of the Great Oracle.  Google lead me to the link above.  It appears to be a thoughtfully constructed exposure chain for the upcoming year, similar to a blog tour but different.  I find the idea both fun and compelling and I am pleased to be included in this.  According to the rules, I have to include them in my post so here they are, copy and pasted.

  • Link to this blog post in your Liebster Award blog post
  • Answer the questions given to you (if nominated, if you were not nominated you can use my questions)
  • Create more questions for your nominees to answer (I’m looking for unique and creative ones)
  • Comment on this blog post with a link DIRECTLY to your Liebster award. To make it easy for me to read them all.

Right out of the gate I would like to acknowledge the blog that nominated me, The Stories In Between and tell you a little about them.  I hadn’t run across the blog before the nomination so I’ve been doing a little reading.  I have to say I’m quite impressed.  The author’s style of writing is smooth and I have no doubt there is a lot of personal experience behind the writing.  I can feel it in the shape of the characters and their quite natural dialogue.  I always appreciate a story that will take me away from wherever I’m at and leave me feeling like I want to go back.  Truly a talented writer who takes the craft seriously.  I strongly encourage you to have a look at the blog and enjoy the writing.  I’m not finished there yet so I’ll be ramping up the views as I make my way through Thursdays In The Valley.  I am genuinely flattered to have to such a fine storyteller nominate my blog.

EDIT:  This post has taken me a few days to write and before I was finished a second nomination was dropped on my blog.  Thank you so much A Tree’s Roots!  Your blog is quite inspiring.  The energy that you put into your life and your words is meaningful to me on many levels and I look forward to spending more time on your blog.  The answers to your questions follow right after The Stories In Between.  I hope it’s not cheating to do it like this.

Next up is the questions.  The Stories In Between answered ten questions posed by the blog that nominated them, then created ten new questions for the blogs nominated by them.  My job is to answer the ten new questions then create ten of my own.  So here goes.

The Stories In Between

  1. What hobby would you get in to if time and money weren’t an issue?

Cartooning.  I realize this isn’t a big money issue, but I simply don’t have the time for it.  I draw a little bit but it’s nothing major.  If I really had time to devote to it I would develop both a comic strip style storyline as well as an animated version.

  1. What is the most annoying question that people ask you?

How old are you?  Lol.  I’m 51 but I seem to still be holding up pretty well.  The question seems to spark a lot of argument on occasion, prompting me to dig out my wallet and show my ID to prove I’m really that age.

  1. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t gotten around to it?

Making my own condiments.  My wife just got me a stick blender for Christmas so I’ll be trashing the kitchen soon while I try to make homemade mayonnaise.  Wish me luck!

  1. Do you have a dream job? What would it be?

Writing.  My mother always beat me over the head with the idea of having something to fall back on and as a result I have always devoted my time to the fall back job and never enough time to my writing.

  1. If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what rule would you make?

Walk the way you drive people!  Stop charging up and down whatever side of the sidewalk you feel like.

  1. If you could make a 20 second phone call to yourself at any point in your life present or future, when would you call and what would you say?

I would call myself at a rather specific moment twelve(ish) years ago and say “Don’t apologize.  You are right.”

  1. What do you do to deal with stress?

I write stories and turn my antagonists into demons.  I also play video games to kill things with impunity.

  1. Do you have any pets? What are their names?

I have three pets.  Bill is a gray tabby who stares and chirps at things only he can see; Louie is a fat, orange tabby I bought from PetSmart… cuz I looked at him and he looked back.  Ya know?  Everette is a white ferret that seems intent on convincing Bill and Louie they are adopted.

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  1. What is something that is really popular/cool right now that really annoys you?

Memes.  ‘Nuff said.

  1. Do you have a favorite book/story from your childhood?

I have a number of them however there are two that stand out:  A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (I’m curious about the upcoming movie.  Will my hope for a good translation from book to film be met or shattered?) and Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander.  Taran was given to me by mother who had a bad habit of not bothering to see if the book she was buying was part of a series.  It was only after reading it that I actually read the entire cover and discovered I needed to save my allowance and buy the rest of the series.  I am my mother’s child.

Questions from A Tree’s Roots

1,  What is your favorite color and what does it mean to you?

A deep emerald green.  To me it means health and good fortune.  Just seeing this color will make me smile.

2. What prompted you to start blogging and/or writing?

I’ve always written stories.  When I was around five or six my mother gave me a book with blank pages and it set my mind on fire.  The blaze has burned long and hard.  Starting a blog as an outlet for this seemed like a natural step.

3.  What is the most significant journey you’ve been through?

The one I’m on right now, my life itself.  I have made so many choices that I felt were arbitrary but turned out to be significant in the end.  Where I’m at right now is not a place I would have seen myself even five years ago.  It’s kinda fun to know that I can still blow my own mind.

4.  Who or what is your greatest adversary?

I have to say my own fear of failure.  Judging myself as harshly as I do can become paralyzing.

5.  If you could conceptualize yourself as anything other than a human being, what would you be?

A tree.  My life has been quite nomadic even in childhood.  I would love to find a single location where I could put down my roots and just live.

6.  How would you describe your safe place?  If you don’t have one what do you imagine it might be like?

My safe place is anywhere without other people.  I need to feel like my mind is the only one active in my immediate surroundings.

7.  What is your favorite website?

Hmmm.  I’m not sure how to answer this one.  I don’t think I have a favorite but there are several that like a lot.  I’m a big fan of Reddit and Twitch.

8.  What type of media resonates most with you?

I love audio.  Tell me a story.  Read me a book.  Turn on a podcast!  I think I listen to movies more than I actually watch them.

9.   Do you have any background/education/experience you feel benefits your blog?

Not really.  I took a few college classes back in the day for english and creative writing but I didn’t enjoy them.  I found them to be tedious and unenlightening.

10.  On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) how would you rate your ability to empathize?

I have to go with 10.  I am firmly standing on the side of over-empathizing to the point that it can ruin my whole day if I encounter someone oozing unhappiness.  I carry that stuff around with me.

Before I list my own questions I would like to provide the list of blogs I am nominating.  Each one is one that I follow and have enjoyed.  I would really like it if you would take the time to check them all out.  

 

Nominees:

https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/

https://iainkellywriting.com/

https://nonexistentbooks.com/

https://thefreedomof.wordpress.com/

https://thougthcontrol.wordpress.com/

https://dwaynewolff.wordpress.com/

https://mabrycampbell.wordpress.com/

Now for my questions.

  1. What is the one piece of advice that will forever jump into your mind because you didn’t take it when your were first given it?
  2. What is your favorite thing to binge on?
  3. What is a physical gesture you tend to use a lot and why?  EX. talking with your hands, winking at someone while you speak, shaking your leg.
  4. Pick a card, any card… a tarot card.  🙂
  5. What are your top two pet peeves with our digital age lifestyle?
  6. What is your all-time favorite blogging beverage?
  7. Name a book/movie that you can watch/read again and again.
  8. What is an activity you enjoy watching other people do but don’t want to do yourself?
  9. How do you explain why water turns into ice to a four year old?
  10. What is a habit you have that you got from someone else?

Dak – Part One

Dak lay on his right side with his little, black snout pointing at the base of the toilet, almost touching the visible crack left from last Spring’s repair job.  His small, now cloudy brown eyes stared emptily into the space between the toilet and the wall while his back legs lay draped on a thin, pink pillow shoved against the side of the bathtub.  She had never seen the pillow before.

“Kayla?  Honey, what’s taking you so long?”

Jamie’s voice grew louder as she walked from the hallway into their bedroom.  Her heavy, booted footsteps stopped just outside the bathroom door.

“Kayla?”

Pulling her shocked gaze away from the dead, gray terrier she turned to face her wife with shiny, wet eyes, her right hand automatically reaching out, groping for support.  Her voice cracked with emotion.

“Jamie, Dak is dead.”  Protectively she filled the doorway, using her body as a shield between Jamie and their dead dog.  “Something has happened.”

Jamie’s small, not quite heart shaped face, expanded with alarm, her pale, blue eyes bugging slightly in their sockets.  The grip of her hand, initially reassuring, slackened.

“What?  What do you mean he’s dead?  What happened?”  Always the more nurturing one, Jamie pressed forward, trying to see past her into the bathroom.  Her voice rose in panic.  “Kayla, get out of my way.  Let me see!”  Three inches shorter but muscled like an iron-worker, Jamie used her shoulder to shove through the doorway.

Helplessly, Kayla watched Jamie take in the scene, her short, blond hair looking bristly in the stark bathroom lighting. Without looking she knew her own auburn locks looked like they belonged on a plastic, doll.  They always talked about changing the bulb to something softer, but never did.

“Oh Dak.”  Jamie’s voice was almost a whisper.  “Oh Dak, what happened?” Crouching, she reached to touch the body and Dak’s head rolled loosely against the floor making a sound similar to someone cracking their knuckles.  

“Jesus!”  Yelping in surprise Jamie fell on her butt.  Her boots thundered against the tile floor as she scrambled backward crashing into Kayla’s shins and staggering them both.

“I don’t know what happened, Jay.  I just walked in and found him.”  Putting her hands on her wife’s shoulders she squeezed gently.  “It must have happened while we were out.”  Feeling Jamie’s body tremble she dropped to her knees and wrapped both arms around her.  

“I’m sorry, baby.  I’m so sorry.”  The apology was instinctive.  Jamie had loved Dak with the fierceness of a lioness.  The small terrier had been the child she could never have.  Turning inside her embrace Jamie pressed her face into her shoulder, her body hitching with sobs.  Kayla’s own tears trailed silently down her cheeks to drop unnoticed on Jamie’s hair.  

Her eyes dragged themselves back to Dak’s body, horrifying her with the need to stare at the now obvious broken neck.  The pink pillow under the dog’s back end stuck out boldly in the beige and blue bathroom decor.  Where had that come from?  Neither of them had a pillow like that, not even as a left-over childhood momento.  It looked uneven and thinly stuffed, like something a kid might make when they were first learning to sew.  Her brain struggling to work again, she gave Jamie another squeeze and tried to ease her away as her heart sped up with fresh alarm.

“Jay, get up.  Someone has been here.”  She felt Jamie stiffen and watched her expression change, the puffy, leaking eyes narrowing as her lips parted enough to be the precursor of a snarl.

“What do you mean?”

Kayla raised an arm to wave at the pink pillow.

“Is that yours?  That pillow?”

“Of course not, it’s hideous.”  Her voice was sharp and bitter, as if she were annoyed to have to acknowledge the pillow at all.  “It looks like that stomach medicine.”

“It’s not mine either,” Kayla stated as her eyes snapped to Jamie’s face, magnetized by the sudden harshness of her tone.  “Where did it come from?”

Pushing away, Jamie got her feet under her and stood up.  With one hand she smoothed her hair down, staring at her palm as she brushed through the wet spot where Kayla’s tears had landed.

“You cried on me.”

Cocking her head to the side, Kayla stared at her wife.  Jamie wasn’t looking at her, just staring at her hand like it was repulsive.

“Jay, did you hear what I said?”

Jamie nodded and wiped her hand against her jeans, still not looking at Kayla.

“Yeah, you asked if the pillow was mine.”

“Before that I said someone has been here.”  Feeling like something was wrong, more wrong than just their dead terrier she fixed her eyes on Jamie and waited.

Satisfied that her hand was dried, Jamie looked up at her and nodded again.

“Of course I heard you, babe.  Just because I’m crying doesn’t mean I’m not listening.”  The bitter tone was back in her voice.

“What’s wrong with you?”  Kayla took half a step backward, her heel landing on the bedroom carpet.  Her heart leaped into her throat when Jamie laughed harshly.

“What’s wrong with me?  My dog is dead!  What wrong with you?”

“He was my dog too!”  Stung, she looked away as more tears filled her eyes.

“Shit.  I’m sorry, Kay.”  Jamie  stepped close and put her hand on her arm.  “I didn’t mean that.”

Overwhelmed, Kayla could only nod as she began to cry again.  Jamie’s body pressed against her and her arms wrapped around her in a mirror image of their position only moments before.

“We need to sort this out, babe.”  Jamie’s voice was soft but firm against her scalp.

Looking again at Dak’s body, Kayla tensed, her eyes drawn to what looked like a small, brown stick poking out from under the pillow.

“What is it?”  Drawing back, Jamie peered at her, then turned to see what she was looking at.

“Someone killed our dog.”  She sniffled.

Monologue #26

This week’s story is one that I challenged myself to.  I’ve always wanted to do a locked room mystery, but haven’t had the bolas to try it.  To make things even harder on myself, I have imposed a limit of 3000 words.  Just to be clear, I’ll be posting this in three parts of 1000 words each.  The last time I tried a three part post/story I went over my word limit by just a little bit.  The finale took more than 1000 words to write.  I intend to do better this time.  And on top of all of that, I chose three random items to use as clues.  If anyone wants to play along at home, the items are as follows:

  1. Pillow – doesn’t matter what kind. It can be a bed pillow, throw pillow, cat pillow… whatever.
  2. Round plastic condiment container with a cracked lid – the kind you get sauces and stuff in.  It’s up to you if there is actually anything in it or not, it just needs to be an informative clue.
  3. Cigar Stub – Chew it, smoke it, use the ashes.

There you go.  One locked room mystery with ready made items for use.  If anyone runs with this idea throw me a link please.  I would be interested in reading what you come up with.  I need to get writing now, I have a murder to plan.

Happy writing everyone!

COL – Distraction

“What the hell are you staring at Ferguson?  Pay attention to your game!”  

Stepping right into his personal space, the Pit Manager Louis planted a large, hot hand on the back of his head and shoved his face down toward the table.

“Head down, ass up!  Nothing else matters!”

Blood surged into Shane’s cheeks as Old Dave the Boxman turned to stare at him with his too small, ermine eyes.  The hairs on the back of his neck leapt straight up.   The players on his end of the dice table started chuckling.  Thinking of them as second rate hyena’s he wished them all a healthy meal of his embarrassment and prayed for them to choke on it.  Six rolls of the dice passed before he dared to pick his head up again and casually glance into the other pit.  Camilla was dealing at optimal speed, her hands and arms flowing like water, placing cards with precision.  She was a perfect study in efficiency.

“Seven OUT!”

Tearing his eyes away he automatically started grabbing up the losing Passline bets in chunks that he dropped on top of his number line amid a chorus of complaints.

“What are you doing, man?”  A dark hand reached down to block him from picking up the next wager.

“Seven out, sir.”  Shane looked up into the older, frowning face.  “The Passline loses.”  It was a stupid explanation but sometimes the players forgot what was going on.  And if he wasn’t mistaken, this guy had laughed for three rolls over the head down, ass up thing.  

“Dude, the dice haven’t even rolled.”  Continuing to block Shane, the man shook his head firmly and used his other hand to point down the table.

Cautiously turning his head to look at Chuck on the other base, he saw his friend standing motionless, hands on the rail with all his Passline bets still in place.  Feeling panic start to slither into his throat, he looked at the Stickwoman.  Cassie stared back at him.  The thick, black braid over her shoulder seemed to bleed its darkness into her eyes.

“It was the table behind you,” she said, tapping the base of her stick lightly against the green felt covering, a clear sign she was irritated with him.

“The dice haven’t rolled, Shane.”  Old Dave the boxman wiggled his swelling finger joints at the mess in front of Shane in annoyance.  “You need to put the bets back.”

“What the hell is wrong, Ferguson?  Still not watching your game?”  Louis barked from his podium, his voice booming and hard enough to split granite.  “Dave, get a grip on this guy, will you!”

With trembling hands Shane started sorting through the chips he had dropped onto his line, feeling Dave’s eyes on him.  His boxman was a lifer, never supervising anything but dice.  If the Pit Manager was snarling at Old Dave then Old Dave was going to rip out someone’s throat.  Shane was positive he would be dealing blackjack for the next week once Dave finished with him.

Five minutes later the bets were restored but his ego was shattered.  Holding onto the rail for support, he stared down at the table listening to his players talk rudely about him like he wasn’t there, and waiting to feel a tap on his shoulder signalling he should clear out.  The dice rolled.  Leaping into action, he paid everything and returned to his starting position, still waiting for the tap.  After two more rolls he heard the harsh, blatting of Old Dave laughing through sinuses that were too used up to support the sound.

“I think he’s got it now, Lou.”

“Good.  I’m already tired of him today.”  Louis’s voice drifted away, signalling he was walking to the other end of the pit.  

“He’s so scared of me he probably won’t look up for the rest of the week.”  Slapping the rail beside Shane, Old Dave rocked slightly in his broken down office chair.  “Don’t worry, Shane, I’m not tossing you over to blackjack just yet.”  He chuckled.  “From the look of things, you’d be happy there right now.”

In the edge of his vision he saw Dave focus on the other pit and knew he was looking directly at Camilla.