Author: Summer Bird

The Rise of Our Common Foe

Zander was tired. His shift was over and he was beyond ready to go home. He could barely keep his eyes open. This was probably the reason that he ignored all the warning signs until it was far too late. He just didn’t see them.

The lobby was empty, unusual for a Friday evening. There wasn’t anybody at the front desk. That caught his attention. He assumed the receptionist stepped away for a moment while things were quiet and dismissed any further thought about it.

There were no other cars in the parking garage. Hours earlier, he drove around for twenty minutes to find a spot on the employee levels. Now all the spots were empty, and somehow he didn’t notice.

Zander didn’t notice that there weren’t any other cars on the road. He still didn’t notice when all the lights blinked out one by one as he passed. Instead, he listened to an audio book on his phone and yawned, fighting to stay awake.

Then the narration stopped, just as the boy was bit trying to kill the giant snake. Zander glanced down at his phone. His battery died already? It should have made it all the way home.

The screen was black. It was dead then. Zander looked back up with a sigh. How was he supposed to stay awake for the drive home now?

A light blinked out, ten miles down the road ahead. And then the next one, just a little closer. No light was visible beyond that. Zander still hadn’t noticed.

He didn’t notice when the only lights on anywhere were those in the mile-long stretch of road ahead of his car. He didn’t notice when a dark cloud passed in front of the moon and the sky went dark. He didn’t even notice the sudden chill in the air.

But when the ground began to shake and all the remaining lights went off at once and his car suddenly stopped, he noticed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do much at that point. He tried fumbling with his seat belt, but it wouldn’t unbuckle.

There was a grinding, rumbling, roaring sound just below his car. The ground rolled his car around like a marble going down a drain. Zander suddenly wasn’t at all sleepy.

And then, with a popping sound like a million soap bubbles all meeting their doom at the same time on the same microphone, Zander’s car was sucked into the middle of the road and disappeared.

The road smoothed out to its normal level of driveable wear and tear. Moments later, the lights were back on. The dark cloud faded into a light evening fog. Traffic resumed as if there had been no pause.

But for Zander, life was anything but normal. His car plummeted faster and faster through the darkness. He was pressed against his seat belt, no longer touching the seat below him.

He couldn’t even hear himself scream. He had never been so frightened. It was impossible to tell how long he fell.

And suddenly the car was gone. At least, he assumed that’s why he no longer gripped the steering wheel or pressed against the seat belt. He no longer felt like he was falling, either. Instead, he was suspended in darkness. He felt it pressing in on him from all sides.

“I didn’t think we’d find one this easily,” a voice said. It was a perfectly normal voice, and it spoke in a conversational tone, as though someone was standing nearby, including him in a conversation that began before he arrived.

“Usually it takes years longer. Perhaps it’s the economy? I find that’s often to blame for things you wouldn’t expect.” The voice seemed a little louder. “Well, let’s see what we got.”

A light shined in his eyes. Ouch. Zander squeezed his eyes closed.

“I have an assignment for you.” The voice spoke in his ear. It sounded soothing, persuasive, perfectly reasonable. “Your name is now Mike and you sell extended warranties. You are our newest telemarketer. Welcome to the team.”

Mike opened his eyes. He sat at a shabby desk in a little cubicle. For a moment, he remembered somewhere else, a different job, a different name… But then his headset beeped. He had a call. He hit the button and checked his script, old life completely forgotten.

“Hi, this is Mike. Have you ever considered purchasing an extended warranty for your vehicle?”

Slogging through the Middle

It’s the middle part of the project that often seems the hardest.

Here are some ideas for getting through to the end.

Beginnings are fun–a new idea that seems so perfect in your mind & you can’t wait to see it on the page. Endings are great–there’s such a sense of accomplishment! But the middle? Well, there’s almost always a point where it looks like it’s not going to work and everything is just terrible.

However, it’s worth finishing!!

HOW?

Remember that there are still things to learn from this project that you can only learn by finishing.

Use it as an experiment to see if it can be saved–brainstorm and try something new.

Tell yourself that you can polish it later, for now you just need something on the page to work with.

Give yourself a deadline and race to meet it without worrying about how things look–for now.

Any other ideas?

Charlie’s Room: Sick Day

Marianne was feeling sick. Isaac kept waking up to hear her coughing in the middle of the night. By morning, he felt like he hadn’t slept much at all. His throat was sore and he felt sort of floaty.

He was pretty sure he was sick too.

After tucking the covers back around Marianne, Isaac put on his slippers and trudged down the hall. He could hear Charlie coughing. Isaac sighed. It was going to be a long day.

He called in sick and then called the attendance line for the school. Then he started cooking some oatmeal. He finished cooking breakfast as Marianne stumbled into the kitchen, looking half awake.

“Sick day today,” he said. “I called in to excuse Charlie and me. You probably should call in sick too.”

“My afternoon meeting is just a phone call,” Marianne mumbled. “I can do that.”

“Okay.” Isaac turned off the stove and dished up some oatmeal. “Orange juice?”

Marianne made a face. “Sounds terrible. My throat hurts. It would be like lemon juice in a paper cut. Throwing up orange juice would be awful, too.”

“Good point.” Isaac put the pitcher back in the fridge. “Would cocoa be better?”

She shrugged. “I think so.”

Charlie woke up late and Isaac reheated everything while Charlie sat at the kitchen table with his head buried in his arms. “I don’t feel good.” Charlie’s voice was muffled. “I don’t want to go to school today.”

“It’s a sick day today,” Marianne answered. “We’re all staying home.”

“But what if I still feel sick tomorrow?” Charlie asked.

“Luckily, tomorrow is Saturday. You wouldn’t go to school anyway.”

They decided to stay in pajamas and watch movies. Marianne and Charlie went to set up nests of blankets and pillows in the living room. Isaac promised he’d join them shortly.

After leaving the dishes to soak, Isaac pulled out his family recipe book. It was the one his grandmother had put together for him when he was finally old enough to hold a knife steady and chop vegetables. It was a huge book, and all of the recipes were handwritten.

It had everything from the family cocoa recipe to great-great-aunt Betty’s wood polish. Today, he flipped through the pages and stopped at the elderberry cough syrup recipe. It didn’t cure colds instantly, but it did seem to keep them from lasting longer.

He dug through the cupboards and fridge to pull out the dried elderberries and honey and cinnamon bark and cloves and ginger. As he chopped and boiled, he started to relax. Just the fumes were helping him to feel better.

He added a good spoonful of the syrup to mugs of peppermint tea. While they cooled a little, he popped some popcorn. It took a couple of trips, but soon he was snuggled into his own little nest watching movies.

That night, Isaac woke himself up coughing, but Marianne seemed to be sleeping better. When he got up in the morning, he could smell pancakes. He stumbled into the kitchen, yawning. Charlie was already there waiting. “I think I feel better than yesterday,” Charlie said. And then he coughed a few times. They all laughed.

The sick day became a sick weekend. They stayed in pajamas and watched movies and drank peppermint tea with elderberry syrup. By Sunday evening, Marianne and Charlie were feeling better. Isaac was pretty sure he was well enough to go to work in the morning.

“So, this cough syrup is a secret family recipe.” Marianne held up the nearly empty jar of syrup.

“I don’t know that the family recipes are secret. We just never seem to be able to share them. Something always happens, and we get distracted. I think it’s a charm on the book.”

Marianne put the jar down. She looked puzzled. “What book?”

“The family recipe book my grandmother made. The one with all the handwritten recipes.” It was right there on the counter.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that one. You’ll have to show me later.” Marianne looked out the window.

Isaac nearly pointed out that the book was right there. But, as he opened his mouth, Marianne was already marching to the back door. “Charlie,” she yelled over her shoulder. “Get the spray bottle. There are cats digging in the garden again!”

She ran out the door, and Isaac picked up the recipe book and took it back to his desk. He shut the drawer with a sigh. He knew that Marianne wouldn’t ask about it later. He wasn’t even sure she could see it.

Perhaps Charlie could? Maybe they could try a recipe from the book sometime. Charlie was certainly old enough to chop vegetables.

Charlie came running through the kitchen with the spray bottle of water and hurried out the back door to join Marianne. Isaac watched them through the window as they chased the cats away from the rhubarb bed. They certainly seemed to feel all better. The sick days were at an end.

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