Archive for July, 2013

A Journey: Novel Writing

A few years ago, I read an interview where my writing hero revealed that she is a plotter – she uses extensive outlines detailing each scene of her novel. I thought that was the only way, and when I learned that it wasn’t, it frustrated me. There isn’t a perfect blueprint for plotting a novel, nor is there one for the actually writing of one. There are endless books and blogs that claim they have it figured out, but perhaps it isn’t so black and white. What works for me may not work for you. Understanding what works for others helps can inspire us – although nothing gets the job done more than simply sitting down and trying something. Here’s a condensed list version of my journey.

What works for me:

  • Keeping a writing journal for each project. This is different than strictly plotting on a story. Before I write the first word, I come up with the backstory so I have a foundation. As I start the first draft, I record every miniscule idea in the journal so (hopefully) no idea is at risk of being forgotten.
  • Maintaining weekly writing goals. I’ve been trying out soft deadlines – something to motivate me, but not something so challenging I have a panic attack.
  • Utilizing the lovely features on Microsoft Word. Want spell and grammar check? Want to change the name of a character after you write the first draft, but don’t want to manually locate the 148 places where you used it? Using such features on Word cuts time suckers and distractions from my writing/editing time.
  • Interviewing my characters. I’ve heard this is a good way to get to know your character, and so I tried it last week. It was extremely fascinating – and all of a sudden ideas for more subplots where coming out of nowhere.
  • Writing to music. I love finding music that fits the vibe of my story. For my current project, a novel with a medieval feel, I’ve been listening to music from Narnia, Brave, and any instrumental Irish music I can find.

What doesn’t work for me:

  • Creating detailed outlines. I enjoy my freedom.
  • Daily word count goals. I’m terrible at remembering to do any one thing every day. And let’s be honest – I like making realistic goals. Will I really be powering away at my novel on the day I have four college finals?
  • Handwriting stories. Some people say they love they love writing on a tangible page. I started out writing this way, but now I am a lazy handwriter. Hm. This pencil is hurting my hand, so I’ll just skip that crucial scene I was going to write. Even though it doesn’t make much sense, I can end the story here…
  • Writing with distractions. I’ve heard of stay-at-home moms who can write with a handful of kids in the room. I find it hard to concentrate with a window open.
  • Procrastinating. Just because I do it doesn’t mean it’s effective for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! What do you do differently? 

~ Felicity

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Overcoming Kaelin’s Limits

by: Rebecca Taylor

            “So what if I’m a girl as you’re so often telling me?” asked Kaelin Hollister from behind her father’s desk where she was working on the accounts for his men’s clothing store.

            “It’s dangerous, Kaelin,” replied her father, Paul Hollister, “1878 is no time for a girl or woman to want to run a ranch. Especially a girl from St. Louis.”

            “You let Denver go. He’s been travelling the west for years,” retorted Kaelin.

            “That is different. It is only normal for boys to crave adventure. Your brother is a typical boy.”

            “Come on, Dad, set me free. You are limiting me to housework. You and most of the other men in this town are limiting the women of today. No one has the right to own a map that says ‘Boundary Line’ between men and women’s work.”

            “It doesn’t matter. You’re nineteen, a woman, and you don’t belong on a ranch. Seriously, Kaelin, you on a ranch? You wouldn’t last two minutes. Besides, it is indecent a woman with all those men. Your mother didn’t go gallivanting around.”

            “I would last more than two minutes after I learned. Dangerous, you say. Mother didn’t do it and she’s still dead.”

            “That isn’t the point, anyways, how do you expect to last more than two minutes on a ranch?”

            “I’ve been reading books on the subject and I’d like to find work on one.”

            “As the housekeeper perhaps.”

            “Just wait and see. That map in your mind is going out the window.”

            “Don’t count on it.”

            Paul Hollister ended up eating at least a few of his words because that same night Kaelin ran away from home. She took every cent she had, bought new clothes, which consisted of a blouse and jeans and boarded the train west. She got as far as Topeka, Kansas on what she had. However, she wasn’t far enough west to get the job on the ranch she knew she just had to have. Luck was in her favour, she was sure of that when she saw the sign looking for a newspaper reporter to go west and report on ranch life. Immediately she went to see Adam Ogilvy about the job. At first, he was sceptical.

            “Miss Hollister,” he said, “can you really do this because this is a job for men.”

            “So people keep telling me, but I can do it. I am going to break through the boundary that men have set for all women,” replied Kaelin.

            “We’ll give it a try, but if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have to go elsewhere.”

            “I have nothing to lose except my dignity,” retorted Kaelin. There was no way she could let this go wrong.

            Mr. Ogilvy gave her a travelling allowance, portfolio assignment and sent her west. She first stopped in Stratton, Colorado; it looked like an interesting ranching community. She asked around about different ranches in the area and then she borrowed a horse from the livery stable (she knew how to ride even though she had grown up in the city of St. Louis. Her parents both loved to ride and often her family had gone on rides through the outskirts of town). She followed the road out of town to the Cavendish Ranch, the Bar C, dismounted and tied her horse to the hitching post and approached the ranch house.

            A young man answered the door and asked her in.

            “Hello, I’m Tom Cavendish, how can I help you, ma’am?”

            “I’m Kaelin Hollister; I’m here on behalf of the Topeka Times, reporting on life in the west.”

            “Oh,” said Tom slightly taken back, “how come you chose this ranch?”

            “Randomly, I took the train to town and then just took the road out of town, this ranch was easy to find.”

            “What kind of information are you looking for?”

            “Information on ranching life, that will give seasoned ranchers something to talk about and readers unfamiliar with ranching a take on ranching life.”

            “Why did they send you, ma’am, surely there was a man for the job.”

            “I assure you that I am capable,” replied Kaelin, her grey blue eyes holding their ground.

            “Have you done a lot of pieces on the subject?” asked Tom, his brown eyes showing puzzlement and interest in Kaelin’s responses.

            “No, it is actually a new series the Times is running, I saw an ad for a reporter when I was in Topeka, applied and here I am.”

            “What kind of information are you going to need and how much time would I have to spend on this if I say that you can do an article about some aspect of the Bar C?”

            “Well what have we here?” asked an older man with greying hair approaching.

            “This is Kaelin Hollister; Dad, she’s a reporter with the Topeka Times writing about life in the west.”

            “The main focus being ranching,” interjected Kaelin.

            “Well, fancy that, a woman reporter, especially one writin’ about man’s business Lady, I think you are in the wrong business,” he replied chuckling.

            “I’ll be the judge of that Mr. Cavendish. Women are just as capable as men, sometimes more so, they actually think before they speak,” replied Kaelin, the words she said surprised her but she had to show him that she wouldn’t back down just because she was a woman.

            “She’s got spunk; don’t go tanglin’ with this one son, I think she may just be out of your league. Where are you from, girl?”

            “I grew up in St. Louis.”

            “A city gal at that.”

            “I have lived in the city, that’s true but it’s the country side in the west that has been drawing my attention for a while now.”

            “What do you want with the Bar C?”

            “I was wondering if you would allow me to experience ranching life so I could write about it here.”

            “Well, I don’t know,” replied Mr. Cavendish, “the boys in the bunkhouse don’t need any distractions from you and well I don’t know if you could rightly keep up?”

            “I can keep up, don’t worry about me.”

            “I don’t know I’ll have to think about this?” answered Mr. Cavendish.

            “If you don’t want the publicity that the Topeka Times can give you that’s fine, I’m sure that there is some cattle rancher out there that will be more than happy to have their enterprise in the news. The Topeka Times has a wide market; it could bring you some prospective cattle buyers.”

            “If you were a man I would yes in a minute but being a woman and all -.”

            “Has nothing to do with anything,” finished Kaelin even though that wasn’t what Josiah Cavendish, well known Stratton rancher was going to say. “Just because I am a woman doesn’t make me any less capable. If you don’t want the chance to be in the Topeka Times just say so and I will be on my way but when you see how well this goes don’t say you didn’t have the opportunity.”

            “Is it just one ranch you are going to be writing about?”

            “Hard to say, to start with yes and we’ll see how the Times readers like it, if the series goes well I may write about other ranches too in order to give the readers a diversified idea of the west.”

            “Did you come out here on your own from St. Louis?”

            “Yes, I did, I’m not afraid of the west or its challenges. Some day I am going to own a ranch of my own.”

            “You might not think that when it’s freezing cold and you’re driving cattle in the blowing snow not knowing where you’re going or when there’s a drought and you haven’t got enough water for your hundreds of head of cattle, your horses or your family.”

            “We all must endure hardships, Mr. Cavendish, in the east, the west, wherever we are in the world, none of us are going to get anywhere free or easy, some may have it easier than others but it is those who work for what they want that get the most enjoyment out of it.”

            “There’s something about you, Miss Hollister that is captivating, I’m going to give you a chance. Why don’t you come in and join us for supper, the missus will like the company and we can discuss your articles some more.”

            “Alright, that will be fine.”

            The next morning, Kaelin, was up bright and early, to her surprise Claire Cavendish was all for her assignment and said that Kaelin must stay at the ranch; they had plenty of room and she wouldn’t want to miss any of the action. Tom took the mount she had borrowed from the livery stable back into town and chose a suitable ride for her from the ranch stock. Stock that knew about being around cattle and would be trained for the line of work she would watching and maybe even participating in, at least she hoped she would be able to participate, although she hadn’t said anything to Mr. Cavendish about it. Kaelin knew enough about his scepticism not to give away her whole reason for coming west. The newspaper job had just been luck, something that would get her close to what she wanted, because as much as she wanted to work on a ranch, she knew that a woman walking up to a door and asking for a job was a very long shot. Tom took Kaelin for a ride around the ranch, showing her where the animals grazed and the expanse of land which made up the Bar C. Later in the day, she stood by the corral with her notebook open and pen out watching the cowboys break horses, trying to describe the motion they made, the horses’ fighting spirits and the men’s unwillingness to give up on a horse as they got up from being thrown repeatedly.

            Most of the cowboys were wary of Kaelin, especially the fact that she someday wanted to be “one of them” and own her own spread. Kaelin felt so scared inside that she didn’t know what to think, all she knew was that she could not mess up her assignment or Mr. Ogilvy would have someone take her spot, a man, and then she would be back at square one. She wanted to make it on her own, on a ranch more than she had ever wanted anything before, under no circumstances did she want to go back home to her father in St. Louis and tell him that he was right, it was too hard and too dangerous for a woman to make it in the west. She had left him a note, explaining that she had to try and that he had better come around to the idea of her having her own ranch and a life of her own someday. She wasn’t going to stick around St. Louis going to parties and waiting for someone to propose to her and then end up keeping house and raising children for someone because she wanted more out of her life.

           As the days went by, Kaelin wrote and sent her pieces back to Topeka, she received repeated letters from Mr. Ogilvy telling her what he did and didn’t like about the articles, some of them he ran and some of them he trashed and told her to rework them. A lot of the time, he scoffed at himself for hiring a woman. He ran her articles under the by‑line K. Hollister; he wasn’t going to have other people laughing at him like he laughed at himself for even considering hiring Kaelin. He made sure that she kept any comments that could give away her gender out of the papers and wondered what the people of Stratton, Colorado were thinking of him and his paper. He knew that it could be an interesting topic for some of the society feminist papers but it was not for a well‑established paper like the Topeka Times, which counted on its male readers to make it a success.

            Kaelin and the Bar C cowboys got to know each other better and slowly they began to become friends, some began to stop regarding her as a reporter and others as a woman as she became a “member” of the crew. She got to use the branding iron and brand the calves and some of the hired hands were teaching her how to rope fence posts even though she was extremely bad at it, often getting herself mixed up with the lasso or hitting one of the men but she laughed and so did they. Deep down inside Kaelin knew that one day she was going to have a ranch of her own and she was going to call it the Star K. Then she hoped her father would be proud of her and not consider her dreams a folly. However, for the time being she was content reporting on the ways of the west and experiencing everything from branding, round ups, haying, and bronc busting.

Single Style

When leggings came into fashion a few years back, I thought they were awful and told myself repetitively that I would never ever wear them.

Now I have some myself that I’ve completely worn out. I guess I just got used to the idea.

When brightly colored sunglasses came into style, I told myself that I didn’t like them. They were ugly.

I kept seeing them and they sort of grew on me. Once I found a pair in the clearance section, I was done. Sold.

Eventually, Jaime Milligan came into style and I was concerned. It wasn’t that he was popular or anything and I didn’t really like him.

His style should have been avoidable.

You see, his style as a person was trending in an underground sort of way. He just had this air about him and these clothes that almost didn’t match but worked together for him anyways.

I did not avoid him like I’d planned to.

I’m actually dating Jaime Milligan. I sometimes buy him clothes that match, though, just so that he isn’t always nonmatching.

I wasn’t as surprised when I came around to his style as the earlier times. He is a stylish boy and I work well with that.

Unfortunately, there is this new book that just came out. It’s called Fortuna Single and it is about this girls encounter with the goddess Fortuna. As you may have guessed, Fortuna is the goddess of luck and fate.

Anyhow, this girl in the book is fated to be single from the age of 20 until the age of 30. She is devastated at first but eventually decides that she can rock her own fortune and make luck bend her way.

I thought the book was a whole bunch of hogwash when I first read the back cover. But it got on the New York Times bestselling list and I recently bought it…

Bye-bye Jaime Milligan.

 

 

 

The Ride

Reporters swarmed around Laney Steele as she mounted her horse with one swift movement.

Microphones, tape recorders and cameras were thrust into her face. Kaycee, Laney’s quarter horse, stood still with his mount on his back. Fortunately the horse was used to the chaos of media and of rodeo life.  “News has been buzzing that a family emergency took place last night. Any comments?” “What made you stay in today’s rodeo?” “Do you really think you’re in condition to ride after your emotional turmoil?”

Laney ignored them. How many times did she have to say, “no comment” before it was taken seriously? Suddenly her confidant and fellow rodeo rider Terra, rushed up. “I’m sorry,” Terra breathed. “I’ve been trying to hold them all back.”

Laney shrugged and rolled her eyes in the direction of the reporters. “It’s alright. I knew this was inevitable.”

“The warm up time for barrel racers has now started,” the announcer’s voice crackled over the outdoor speaker system. “All barrel racers, to the ring.”

“Good luck out there,” Terra called, and Laney trotted off.

Laney could still hear the reporter’s chaos as behind her.

“Terra, would you care to comment on Laney’s emotional state right now?”

“What kind of friend do you think I am? Go point your camera’s into someone else’s business.”

Laney stifled a chuckle at Terra’s spunk. She trotted alongside the other competitors, heading towards the arena gate. Leave it outside the arena, Laney commanded herself. And so just before she entered the gate, she got the image of her mother’s face out of her mind. When riding, any distractions could prove catastrophic. She forced her mind on positive things instead – like the rush of adrenaline that was sure to follow her race. That rush was powerful motivator.

The bull riders performed first. When Terra, or Terra the Terrible as the rodeo company now called her, was up, Laney screamed for her until her throat was dry. She stayed on her bull eight seconds and finished second in her division. The calf roping started, and then came the barrel racers.

“Up next, the one you’ve been waiting for – Laney Steele on her steed Kaycee.” The stands roared. Those wonderful butterflies took up residence in Laney’s stomach once again. “Ladies and gentleman, this horse and rider team have come in the top five places in over twenty competitions this last year. Let’s see if she’ll live up to her reputation today.”

Laney posed herself just outside the gate, leaning forward, and gripping the reins in preparation. Right, left, left. Lean in on the turns, not too sharp, not too wide. The roaring had faded in ears. All that she noticed was her own heartbeat and Kaycee’s breathing. The gun shot the blank. Kaycee lurched forward before Laney could urge him to do so. He was in it for the adrenaline, too. They rushed around the first barrel, a right turn. Eyebrows furrowed and knuckles white from holding the reins, they took a perfectly calculated turn around the second barrel. The last barrel always brought out the rebel in Laney. She urged Kaycee into an intense gallop, and they took a tight left turn around the barrel. The blue barrel teetered, but didn’t tip. The crowd stood up in the bleachers, cheering her home, but Laney couldn’t hear any of it. Laney’s soul was flying. The butterflies in her stomach had morphed into a beautiful rush of adrenaline, giving her the energy to finish. The last stretch was her favorite, and they galloped straight out of the arena. She ran Kaycee out for a minute, allowing him time to cool down. Only when they slowed to a trot did Laney have time to catch her breath and realize how loud the crowd was.

“13.46 seconds for Laney Steele,” the announcer bellowed. “Her best time yet by two seconds, and she now stands in first place.”

The crowd continued to roar and the announcer transitioned to the next rider.

Laney reached down to Kaycee’s neck and gave it a mighty pat. “You did great.” His sides heaved with his quick breaths, but he turned to look at her with eager eyes. “That’s all for today,” she answered his pleading question.  “And that was a good one – this adrenaline kick ought to last you for a while.”

Terra appeared by her side again. She held a water bottle in her hand and a bucket for Kaycee in her other. “You beat your old time. You’re on fire today,” Terra exclaimed.

“Thanks,” Laney breathed, grinning. “So were you.” She dismounted gracefully and allowed Kaycee to drink. As she stood and watched Kaycee, her left hip popped. She cringed and began to massage her hip. No sooner had she done that and the press was about her again.

“We’d like to congratulate you, Laney Steele. It looks like the bursitis in your hip is acting up again, and you still held it together and made the best time of your career,” said one woman with a microphone. “But with other riders yet to go, do you think it’ll be enough to win?”

“Laney, I’m dying to know – why do you choose to barrel race?” Another reporter interrupted. That was always the million dollar question with the media. It was also the question she was the most prepared to answer. As usual she ignored them all, inserting a “no comment” here and there.

“Laney, now that the race is over, are you going to visit your mother, the barrel legend Alison Steele? We’ve heard that she relapsed and is back in for chemo this morning.”

With Kaycee’s reins in hand, she turned around. “How did you know that?”

Terra rushed to her aid. “You don’t have to talk to them,” she said gently. “They just want to fire you up.”

Well, it worked, she thought. “Who told you that?” Laney repeated.

The man who had asked the question, a young man with glasses, swallowed hard. “The hospital released that information.”

Lacey glared. “They shouldn’t have done that. Her business is her business.”

Questions peppered the air once again. “How is your mother doing?” “You mother was a barrel racer legend herself – is it because of her that you’ve become a champion?” “How are you doing with her illness?”

Laney grabbed one of the microphones before anything else could be asked. “I’ll answer one question and one question only.”

Terra lurched forward to push away the reporters once and for all, but Laney motioned her to stop. The cameras leaned forward and the questions came once again. Laney put up her hand. “I choose the question.”

A memory from that morning flashed in her mind. “You’ll regret what you don’t do,” her mother had told her. The reporters were half wrong about her mother training her for barrel racing. As a kid, Laney had a separate riding instructor who had told her how to hold her reins and how to gallop in the two point position; it was her mother who had taught her what was at the heart of barrel racing. Dedication and no regrets, Alison Steele had said about the most important aspects riding. She lived out her advice, too. Until the first bout of pancreatic cancer weakened her, Laney’s mother was a rodeo woman for twenty-two years. She’d had many painful falls and close calls, but she’d always said the thrill of the ride made up for it.

“That question about why I ride at all.” Cameras were turned on again. She counted at least six different TV station cameramen around her. “I have my reasons for doing what I do. I do it for the adrenaline, for the rush, for the connection between me and Kaycee. I thrive on that. Also,” Laney continued, thinking of her champion mother’s pale face, “I ride for those who cannot. That’s why I push through the hip pain, and push through every other obstacle. The arena is where both my mother and I have felt at home.” Even in uncertain times, Laney was always sure of one thing – only when she rode Kaycee, with the wind in her ponytail and the dust in her face did she feel free. “Why should I choose something else?” She felt so confident now, but a few years ago she almost did choose something else. She took a bad fall on her hip and shattered any sense of purpose she’d had. She convinced herself to go back to being a waitress, and almost took a permanent job as a restaurant manager – almost. The job just felt wrong. The rodeo could never be taken from her spirit. Now she looked the eager reporters in the eye, one by one. “I’d rather feel freedom and the pain in my hip than regret.”

Balancing Act

by: Rebecca Taylor

Three months into first semester at Prospects College in the Police Foundations program Adam Morissey was exhausted.

“Adam, Adam, wake up, don’t fall asleep in the spaghetti,” said his father John.

“Sorry, Dad, I guess I haven’t been sleeping very well lately. I’m busy.

“You’re doing too much. I saw your hockey coach last night. Why didn’t I know about your second job? Boy, why didn’t you tell me that you had this much work to do, you’ve got a very full plate and I don’t know how you do any of it anymore, your mind has got to always be on something else,” said John.

“But…I’ve got to do this, I need the money, the hockey I’ve been doing all my life and the school is my future career. I didn’t want you to worry about me, that’s why I didn’t tell you about working at the hardware store,” answered Adam.

“Son, you’ve got to make some choices. You can’t do it all. Twelve hours a week at O’Dell’s Hardware, your weekends at my storage firm and still you’re playing hockey and going to school, it’s too much for anybody.”

“I’ve got to do it, Dad, it’s my life.”

“I know it’s your life, and I want you to get a chance to enjoy it. You’re only twenty-one, you have to live boy, now is the time for exploring the world. You’ll only end up working yourself ragged if you keep it up like this. You deserve better for yourself; you need to take more time for you. If you want, you can stop working with me on the weekends. I know that the pay isn’t great.”

“Dad, you know I can’t do that, you need me and someone else is going to want to be paid more. I’ve been there six years; I know what I’m doing.”

“I know you know what you’re doing but I also think that someone else, maybe a student who is looking for some extra cash would be willing to take over the job.”

“I need the money, Dad, school is expensive, and I’m just scraping by even with my job at the hardware store.”

“I’ll give you the money you’d be making working with me, you’ve just got to stop working so hard.”

“We can’t afford that, and you know it.”

“Let me worry about that,” answered John.

“No, we’re a family. Ever since you and Mom got divorced, we’ve been making the decisions together. Six years we’ve worked together and made decisions together, we’re a team, Dad.”

“Yes, we are, Son, but teams don’t keep things from each other and you kept working at O’Dell’s from me for three months. How you did it, I don’t know because I was bound to run into someone who’d seen you there.

“I work there early in the morning before it’s open, restocking the shelves, getting the bank deposit ready and stuff with Mrs. O’Dell, I don’t work there when it’s open and people can see me.”

“All this time, and I’ve thought you were working out at the rink and spending too much time on hockey, maybe you need to cut back on hockey, after all you’ve always said you only do it for fun, a lot of the other guys on your team are very serious about it.”

“Yes, they are, but I release the pressures of my life by playing hockey. Leaving school isn’t an option, I want to be a police officer, and make the world a safer place. I don’t see any options, Dad, but to do what I have been doing.”

“You’re going to have to figure out your priorities, Adam, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but when you’re falling asleep in your supper, there is a problem. You need to eat, have time to relax, go to school and work, but you can’t overdo it. You’re working more hours a week than I am with all your activities and I don’t think it is healthy for you. There has to be too much stress in your life. I don’t like it.”

“Right now, I don’t see any other options. What do you want me to do, I’m doing my best.”

“Slow down, Son, don’t regret your youth.”

“I’ll work it out, Dad, just let it be.”

“Okay, but you know I’m always here for you if you need to talk.”

“I know.”

Four months into the semester and his hockey coach was on his back.

“Adam, you’re not into it like you used to be, I don’t think you have the time for hockey anymore like you used to. You know that this team is a commitment,” said Coach Ryan Hayden.

“I know, Coach, I’m giving it as much time as I can. I come to practices and I play at games.”

“How much other ice time are you giving it right now?”

“None, unfortunately, I don’t have the time with school and work.”

“That’s exactly it, Adam, you don’t have the time, why you were practically falling asleep on the ice. You can’t keep this up. You need to think about what’s more important, your health, or hockey.”

“My health, but I’ve played hockey since I was eight years old, I’ve been doing this for thirteen years, and you can’t just expect me to stop.”

“No, Adam, you shouldn’t stop doing it, but I think you need to take a break, maybe join a more recreational team, not one like ours. This team is big league competitive, you don’t fit into the scheme of things here anymore; you have better things ahead of you in life. You’re working two jobs and going to school. You’re going to make a great police officer but you have to live through nine semesters. You’re only in your first one. Think about it, Adam, I don’t think you’ll regret taking time for you.”

“Fine, Coach, I’ll think about it, but for now, I’m going to keep playing.”

“Then find the time to practice your techniques and skating, you have to keep up your hockey stamina.”

Another two weeks went by; Adam was preparing himself for midterms, when Vera O’Dell, his boss at the hardware store approached him.

“How much sleep did you get last night, Adam?”

“I got to bed around one,” answered Adam.

“And you started working here at six this morning. That means you only got five hours of sleep last night. Your body needs more than that,” answered Vera.

“I know but I was studying for midterms.”

“You’re too busy, Adam; you’re not spending enough time on you. You have too much going on in your life. Life is full of decisions; you need to make some. You aren’t any good to anyone especially yourself like this. You put the six-inch nails in with the five-inch ones yesterday morning and I had to spend all morning fixing them up. You can barely keep your head up. You’re going to be tired all day at school. Come on into the back with me. I’m going to get you a cup of coffee and something to eat. The next time you come to work, I want you alert and on the ball. I like you, Adam, you’re smart, respectful, honest, and destined to go a long way but not like this. You have to decide what is most important to you.”

“Okay, Mrs. O’Dell, Christmas break is next week, I’ll figure out what to do then, please don’t fire me. I promise I’ll get some sleep today.”

“Okay, Adam, but remember what I said.”

It just wasn’t Adam’s day because at lunch the head of his program and professor, Jason Allister approached him.

“Adam, you’re doing good work, but you’re also falling asleep in class. This isn’t the first time this has happened either. I know what kind of a course load you have and that you work two jobs and play hockey but that is no excuse. It is time to figure out your life.”

“You can save the lecture, Mrs. O’Dell, already gave me one today and before that it was my hockey coach and my father. I know I have to take care of my health, get my sleep, and slow down. I need to make a decision about my priorities because I can’t keep up this balancing act. I’m going to figure it out during Christmas holidays.”

“Very good, Adam, I just wanted you to be aware of what you’re doing to yourself but I can see you already are.”

Adam just smiled and nodded, he was certainly aware of the situation. What am I going to do, he wondered, I have to stick with school and I need to work. I guess the only thing I can do is take a break from hockey until I have my education and then I can join a recreational league and just have fun. I don’t see as how I have any other choice. Sometimes life is hard and I have to act like a man and take the consequences. There are no other options. I’ll tell Mr. Hayden after the big game next Friday, I’ll be on break by then and be able to relax a little.

The Mountain Muskrats won the big game and after the victory party, Adam approached Ryan Hayden.

“Good job, out there, Adam, your scoring was great. You must have slept well last night.”

“I did, no homework on Christmas break. I made a decision, I need to leave this team and spend more time on me. I need to pursue my studies and work without hockey getting in the way. I just don’t have time for it anymore. Maybe someday I’ll be able to get back to it on a recreational league like you suggested.”

“I think that is a very good decision, Adam, and you were man enough to admit that you can’t do it all anymore. I hope that you can come see the home games once in a while. You can even sit on the sidelines with the players if you want.”

“Thanks coach that means a lot to me. As much as I love to play hockey, I know that I can’t do it all and have to accept that. It isn’t the end of the world,” and so with a few final parting words Adam left the hockey team and found more time in his life to pursue his education to his full potential and work. Not having to play hockey anymore meant that he was able to work the evening shift at O’Dell’s Hardware and sleep easier not having to worry about missing work in the mornings after a few late nights of studying.

Skype Funeral

I am sitting down on my lawn chair by the water, watching a Skype funeral.

It’s nice to be able to look away if the funeral gets too sad, although this one isn’t too bad. It’s my third this week but I don’t really know the person. I’m simply watching it because my friend said that they paid for the upgrade for the funeral Design Piks and they apparently have an eccentric taste.

WELCOME scrolls across the black screen in glitzy gold letters. I feel rather odd being welcomed to a funeral but it is the fashion to start with a welcome for all of the Skype funerals ever since the first one four years ago.

The screen pans over many pictures of the man, Harold Hansen. They must have taken video of a bunch of his printed photos and then set it to fast forward. I am not really impressed with the expensive payment so far.

From the pictures, I notice that he was an ugly baby but made up for it in his teen and early twenty years and even as an old man he looked pretty spry.

The next part, the screen flashes brightly and they are showing this picture of the man right before he died. I wasn’t expecting the flash, like a little bit of heaven. I wonder absentmindedly if he went to heaven or not.

“Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls,” a background voice announces, almost like we are at some sort of carnival or theatre. “We are glad to have you, yes every one of you, join us for this special event. According to our statistics, over 3 million viewers are currently watching the funeral of Harold Hansen.”

They are panning the camera over the casket and I look away. A soothing female voice interrupts my lake viewing with, “Hansen was a man..” they flash pictures of manly men, “A man to be remembered.” They flash pictures of statues and oil paintings and such things as that.

So far the graphics have been phenomenal, but people can get that type of thing on their old, out of date iPhone Argent 7’s now so I don’t’ really see where the upgrade money really helped. They transitions between pictures and audio has been nice too, I guess.

And then they get to the documentary part. It tells of Harold’s life and shows different video segments that he took and that his is it. It is really quite vintage looking and as I follow him through high school years or leather jackets and college years of unopened textbooks, I feel like I know him.

I look to the white caps on the lake again while they discuss his first wedding. His wife was quite beautiful, I notice when I look back at the screen. There is a black and white picture of them kissing and I wonder if he looked at it a lot.

The later part of his life was rather dull when he did some important political things. I stop paying attention as the video goes on twenty minutes. I don’t know how long it is projected to take. I let my mind go back to the first Skype Funeral I ever attended.

It was for Lady Gaga. We were told, via the press, that she was only having a Skype funeral as per her will. It was the huge rave and, of course her family paid for all of the Skpe users to watch it at the same time. You see the main part of the funeral on the top as a partial live stream and partial pre-recorded segment from some studio that makes stuff like this and then on the bottom inch of the screen, all of the faces of other users watching the funeral with you.

There were over 20 million ‘attendees’ of her funeral.

Gaga’s funeral truly was monumental and paved the way for the future. They played parts of each of her songs and different quotes from interviews and it was weird, of course, all put together in a strange Skype video.

And so it became the fashion right then and there. They didn’t tell us until later that she had actually had a real funeral to go along with the Skype one and that we hadn’t attended her “one and only” funeral. But by then the idea of a Skype funeral had taken over.

And here I am now. They are finally done with Harold’s life story. “There will be a statue of Harold in New York and we hope you will al come visit it as a tribute.” They are playing Amazing Grace as the leaving song but right in the middle, the words “Special Announcement” pop up on the screen. I watch them scroll.

“Do you really want this to be our world? Do you really want to be watching Skype funerals with your ass stuck to your chair? All electronic and no real emotion? What about welcoming your children into a world that you are proud of instead of into more and more Skype funerals? –Harold Hansen”

Amazing Grace continues to play and I log out. I would give this Skype Funeral a disappointing B. Skype funerals are to remember the person and feel for them, not about tut-tutting the world for something that has allowed more people to mourn for those they loved. Oh well, one dud for the week isn’t so bad.

I have three hours until my next Skype funeral and I hope it won’t be as crappy as this one was.

Dreams Come True

     

I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. I stared at the dead mouse at the foot of my bed. I’d been staring at it all morning, hoping it was only my imagination, but I was beginning to believe that it was real.

A knock sounded on my door, and it opened to reveal my best friend’s face. “Cammie, you’re not even out of bed. Aren’t we going to the mall today?”

“I just…” I couldn’t give a relevant answer.

“What’s wrong?” Miranda entered and sat on the edge of my bed. Her dark hair framed her confused face.

“I had a dream a few nights ago,” I started. “a dream that a mouse died in my room and I had to set traps.”

“Your house has never had mice.”

“You’re missing the point. I never remember my dreams.”

“I forgot about that.”

I pointed at the end of my bed, she leaned to see and then shrieked. “Then that appeared this morning.”

“Why didn’t you start with that?” She looked as though she was about to scream again when she must have seen my pale face. “Why has this worried you so much? You could have slept walked, and seen the mouse in your sleep and only believed it was a dream.”

I shook my head. “I know what I saw. This is the third time this has happened.” At her worried frown, I explained. “Last week was the first dream. I thought I dreamt that Ma was busy with laundry and burnt her chili. The next evening, I came home and the whole house reeked like burned chili. She claimed she was distracted by the laundry.”

Miranda shrugged slowly. “So… you have future telling dreams. Maybe you can make yourself dream of wonderful things, and then they’ll happen to you.”

“I don’t think it works that way anyway.” I flopped backwards on my bed. I did not ask for this. Suddenly the phone rang. “Mom’s out. I better get that.” Eager for the distraction from the dreams and the dead mouse, I bounded downstairs to the landline phone.

“Hello?”

After a quick and mutual introduction, the voice on the other end of the line explained himself. “I’m calling concerning the application you filed for our company, Express Shipping.”

I held my breath. I’d applied for that job a few weeks ago, and right now I could go for some extra cash. Renting my own apartment would be a good use of any paycheck I could get.

“If you’re still interested, we’d love to offer you a job as a customer service attendant.”

He explained that my job would be to help people in line to deliver packages. I would weigh packages, attach postage, and ring up the order. I managed to breath and answer that yes, I was definitely interested, and I would indeed like to start tomorrow. I hung up the phone and rushed back upstairs to tell Miranda.

That was the end of the beginning.

                                                                 Two Weeks Later

Seven-thirty always rolled around earlier than I expected, but I was beginning not to mind. Pulling into the Express parking lot every morning gave me a sense of independence I’d never felt before. My dreams were becoming more frequent – one almost every night now, but the job served as a wonderful distraction.

At my lunch break that afternoon, my boss Seymour came to sit at my table in the break room.

Though quite burly with his large beard and mustache, Seymour was the type of man who appeared to be ominous but was a teddy bear at heart. He’d done wonders in trying to make me feel part of the team. After some brief small talk, Seymour said, “I had this dream last night that I could fly. Aren’t dreams just the craziest things?”

If only you knew. But I only replied, “They never make any sense.”

“What do you dream about?”

I swallowed the bite of my ham sandwich. “Well, last night I dreamt that a bad storm hit.” Thunder rumbled, and I glanced upwards.

Seymour leaned back in his chair and nodded nonchalantly. “Does that happen often?”

“Thunder? Happens all the time.”

“The dreams that turn out to be true, does that happen a lot?”

I frowned, feeling slightly guarded now. “It’s happened a few times before.”

“Do me a favor will you? Tell me next time you have a dream. Doesn’t matter what it is, but it might help us.” I stared at him. “For example, if you’d known it was going to rain today, I could have called earlier about that leaky roof.” He stood up and turned towards the door. “Just remember to tell me, whatever it’s about.” He grinned at me, like his request was completely normal; as if everyone told their employers what they dreamed of every night. No further explanation came, and he walked out. I finished my ham sandwich in a confused silence.

That night, I had yet another dream. A middle-aged man was walking down the sidewalk. He was wearing plaid, and he looked furtively before he crossed the street.  The adjacent street sign read 10th Ave. and Wildwood Street. A church bell rang in the distance, and I counted 12 chimes. Why did I dream of a man in plaid?

I walked in to work that morning and I already had a customer in line. Seymour was in his office, and I was the only other employee who had come in yet.

“What can I help you with?” I asked.

He couldn’t have been much older than me. I expected that he simply wanted to ship a package.

“You need to quit this job.”

“Excuse me?”

“Look, I know things. It’s not safe for you here.”

I stared. “Maybe you’re right. I can call security.”

He put his hands up in the air, acting innocent. “It’s not what you might think. I’m Adam, and I’m supposed to be your mentor. Every dreamer gets one. Usually I get more time to develop trust with the dreamer, but this situation is escalating faster than I expected.”

“A dreamer?”

Adam nodded solemnly. “That’s right. I know about your gift.”

“Um… my gift?” I didn’t know if I’d call it that.

He sighed. “Don’t believe me? Your first ever dream was that your mom burned soup, and it turned out to be true. You dreamt about little every day stuff like that for a bit, but last night’s is the first of the more important ones. Last night it was the guy in plaid taking a walk at noon, right?”

I had told no one of that. “I need you to leave now,” I said coldy.

“I’ll  be back later in case you have a change of heart. Whatever happens, don’t ever tell Seymour about your dreams.”

I decided to humor him. “And why not?”

“A life is in the balance.” A pause. “The business here is shady,” he continued in a low voice. “It’s not what anyone thinks. I’ll explain more next time.”

Seymour was making his way towards my counter, and Adam disappeared out the door as quickly as he’d come in.

A few hours later, my grey-haired co-worker Leonard waltzed in.

“You look chipper this morning,” I said with a smile as I filled some paperwork at the front counter.

“Special delivery day is always a great day,” he said with glittering eyes.

“Oh? I didn’t know we had one today. When do you leave?”

“Don’t know. Boss hasn’t told me the details yet. Odd,” he commented, squinting. “He usually knows those things by now.” He shrugged. “But it’s bound to be a good one.”

“Know what you’re delivering?” I asked out of curiousity.

“Oh, you know – “ His face fell when he realized I didn’t know. “I forgot you’re the new kid. Ask Seymour.”

I sighed. Why such a complicated morning? I’d rather forget about the dreams and the secrets and get on with apartment searching. That’s all I wanted. My own place away from odd distractions.

The morning was so busy I hadn’t even thought of telling Seymour about my dream. My lunch break came, but this time I decided to eat outside. I hadn’t decided what to do if Seymour asked me more questions.

I stepped outside and sat down at the park bench outside the store window. I had no sooner unwrapped my sandwich when a figure appeared and Adam was sitting next to me.

“I see you didn’t tell Seymour about the plaid guy.”

“You were waiting for me?” Oddly, he didn’t scare me that much now. If he’d wanted to cause me harm, he’d have done it already. “How do you know I didn’t tell him?”

“The guy in plaid is still alive, that’s how I know.”

I set my sandwich down, suddenly not hungry. “I don’t even know what that means.”

“You saved his life, Cammie.” He stopped talking as a customer walked past us and into the store. “Most of the things they ship at Express is legit. There may be only a tiny bit of illegal activity, but it’s very dark stuff. Every week, Express is available for the hire of one special package.”

“What’s in it?”

“Doesn’t matter what’s in it. It’s the deliverer who’s lethal.”

I stared. “You mean…”

He nodded. “They’re hit men.”

My mind was spinning:  the special delivery, Leonard, the general secrecy, and my dreams. “And the man in plaid?”

“He embezzled money from his construction company for years. His boss just found out and ordered a hit. He was today’s target. He’s going to get picked up today for his embezzlement. He’ll go to jail, but he’ll be alive.”

I sat for a long time.

“What’re you thinking?”

“This is crazy.”

“You have an alternative. You could work for me.”

I cocked my head. “And that’s not crazy? I don’t even know you.”

“Look, I’m part of detective team. We work on cases to find and catch serial killers, working with police forces worldwide. My people are working to shut down this dark place right now.” He motioned towards the Express building behind us. “Someone with your skills could be a real asset to our cases.”

I struggled to process. “So you don’t have… the gift?”

He shook his head. “I’m only in connection with someone else who does. That’s how I know so much about you and your dreams.”

“How would I be an asset?”

“Dreamers dream about whatever their confident needs to see. You were going to tell Seymour about your dreams, and thus you found out things that would only be helpful to him and his company. The same sort of thing would happen if you worked for me.”

The store door opened and Seymour stuck his head outside. “Sorry to cut your break short. I’m swamped; I need you in here, Cammie.”

I turned quickly to Adam, and mouthed, “Wait.” I followed Seymour back inside. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something,” I said. “I don’t think this – ”

“I’m sure it can wait,” Seymour interrupted. “Oh, I’d like to know if it’s going to storm anytime soon. Have any dreams last night?” He winked at me I followed him to the counters.

“Nope.” I paused. “And Seymour? This isn’t going to work out for me. I quit.”

I walked out, leaving Seymour staring, but I returned to Adam, where a new job awaited me.

I didn’t ask for this. It didn’t mean I couldn’t make something great out of it.

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