Wanderlust: Introduction

I haven’t done too much traveling in my nearly 26 years of living, but I’ve decided that shouldn’t deter me from using those few and sparse experiences as fodder for my writing. This is just an introduction post to let my followers/readers know what to expect from these posts. You’ll know what to look for because I’ll always start the title with Wanderlust.

This isn’t so much going to be a travel segment in the sense of tips and tricks (thought I might do my best to include those as part of my blogs), but more of a meditation on my experiences and a way to express my impressions about the places, the people and the journeys.

I plan on doing more traveling in the future, so hopefully my Wanderlust posts will be abundant as time passes. For now, though, I’m going to start with past traveling experiences I’ve had abroad and within my own home country of the United States.

I hope you come along for the ride and enjoy what I have to say! Stay tuned 🙂

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Reluctant Romantic

I’ve read Pride & Prejudice and was smitten. All Cassandra Clare books? Fell like a sucker. I watch The Vampire Diaries and am a hardcore Delena shipper. I openly admit that watching A Walk to Remember still makes me ugly sob. So what is it about the romance genre label that keeps me at bay?

I’m obviously a sucker for a good love story. Hello, grew up on Disney movies, of course I love love. I live for the warm and fluffy feelings of seeing couples come together and live happily ever after. I gushed over Olicity on Arrow (and was heartbroken when they didn’t last) and I still firmly believe Destiel is end game on Supernatural.

It’s not all about the romance in romance novels though. As is bound to come with hand holding and kisses is the sex. I’m certainly no prude. I watched True Blood (with my mother, no less), so I’m clearly comfortable with awkward, sexual situations in my fiction.

Perhaps there’s still a part of my mind that resists due to prior stigmas of romance novels being trashy literature. But I know now the negative perception of the genre and how it correlates with viewing all things feminine with disdain, and knowing is half the battle.

Still, I can’t let myself pick up books with titles like Rough and Ready or Take A Ride. I read Twin of Fire and Twin of Ice by Jude Deveraux and thought those were okay. I barely remember Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Fantasy Lover, only that the sex scenes made me roll my eyes and snort. I can’t possibly take these books seriously.

But why do I need to take them seriously? For crying out loud, one of my favorite shows features an archer that let’s loose arrows that turn into parachutes! Maybe when I’m reading the situations these romance novels unravel, they seem too unlikely to ever happen for real. Then again, I was forced to accept analyzing key strokes as a legitimate method of finding out corporate espionage, so perhaps realistic standards are not the problem.

I’m thinking what it all comes down to in the end, is I simply haven’t found the right romance read for me yet. I probably spent so many years adamantly resisting the notion of liking girly things, that even now, with all the wisdom and education I’ve gained, I’m still a little obstinate in my views of “trashy” books. I hope that changes someday, but for now, I’ll continue to consume my passion for passion through TV, movies, classics and YA reads.

The End

Finally! I’ve reached the end of the 52 week writing challenge. Naturally, the prompt was “a story titled the end.” It’s been a challenge indeed to keep up doing this the whole year through, but it’s been worthwhile. I hadn’t realized how many stories I was capable of creating on the fly. This last piece is more of a reflection on my college graduation and how I’d felt at that time, almost 4 years ago now. Enjoy!

I looked around one last time at the now mostly empty apartment. Legolas had been folded into one of Caitlin’s bins. James Dean was rolled up in a stack of other posters with a rubber band keeping them together. Only Lida’s mugs remained in the cabinet next to the fridge above the stove.

The furniture the rooms came with remained, but my guitar and cheap Target bookshelf had been packed and sent off to my car and the Goodwill store, respectively. Caitlin had erased her notes from the full length mirror upstairs and saved her messy, highlighted and handwritten notes in her agendas in a box downstairs.

We’d done this all before in the three years previous, but this time we wouldn’t be coming back to Campus Crossings. There’d be no more fighting for the parking spot right in front of our door between the two asshole trucks who tried to block me out. No more stopping at the front office to catch the next shuttle to class in the early morning. No more late night walks from Peg Pointe a few blocks up the road after an evening of pizza, movies and board games. No more quick trips to the Walgreens across the street to pick up emergency ice cream for those nights one or more of us came home crying.

It was meant to be an ending. An opportunity to start something new. The whole cliché of every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. It wasn’t just an end this time though. See, when high school ended, we knew we’d be together again in college. This time was different. This was the end, because we didn’t know if we’d be together again.

Three of us had graduated. One was going to grad school. Two remained behind to finish in Orlando. Two of us moved back to SoFlo to start the job hunt with humanities degrees. We were scattered to the winds, and it was terrifying.

I hadn’t ever known a life without constant companionship, but here I was stepping into a world where I had no idea if my best friends and I could survive the biggest challenge of all: growing up. Sure, over the years there’d been the fair share of tiffs. Throwing shoes at Lida so she’d stop leaving them in the doorway. Complaining about dishes being left in the sink. Reprimanding Char’Lee for letting a stranger into our apartment. We’d made it through all that.

We’d made it through heartbreaks, rejection letters, anxiety attacks and nights we just had too much. But we’d always done that all together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. Could we still do it with 300 miles between us?

I didn’t have much choice though. I’d have to find out the hard way, by bringing the last bin to my car and stepping over the threshold one last time. One last hug before setting myself up behind the wheel of my car. One last drive down Rouse to remember the weirdly wide, brick speed bumps that would scrape the bottom of my bumper if I took them too fast.

The end of college wasn’t an end. It was the end. Not in a dramatic “my life is over” kind of way, but more of a “my life will never be the same again.” It’ll never be that easy again. It was officially, the real end of childhood. And as sad or scary as that sounds, it’s for the best. It’s the best end.

*Edit: Made a mistake in the story. It was a Walgreens, not a CVS. Change made 1/3/17.

Toad and Mole

This week’s 52 week writing challenge prompt is “a story set at Christmas,” and with this, I am officially caught up on my challenge! It’s a Christmas miracle! Merry Christmas, Noche Buena, and happy holidays all around to my readers. Next week will be the final prompt for the challenge. Enjoy!

Heel to toe, heel to toe, slow, slow, slow. I walked like a circus performer on a tightrope as I grasped the mug handle in my fingers, watching the top layer of marshmallows in hot cocoa ripple like the glass of water in Jurassic Park. Just one more step.

Mom came up behind me and grabbed the mug so I could settle in under the tree next to my brother. “Thanks, mama.”

“You’re welcome.” She beamed and handed me back the mug.

I took a slow sip, and even though it still burned the tip of my tongue and roof of my mouth, I let out a satisfied, “Mmmmmmm.”

Dad took a seat in front of the fake fireplace he’d made out of cardboard and colored in with my crayons. Above his head, on the fake mantle, hung our stockings, held in place with push pins. From left to right they read, “William. Sonia. Daryl. Meagan.” My name was in pink glitter.

“Okay, are we all ready?” Dad asked.

Daryl and I nodded. I laughed when I saw his hot chocolate mustache. “Shut up. You’ve got one too.”

“Alright, dad, you pick your character first,” Mom prompted.

“I’ll be Rat,” he answered.

My brother raised his hand high in the air like he was in school. “I’ll be Mr. Toad.”

“I’ll be Badger,” added Mom. “Meagan, that leaves you with Mole.”

“Aw, again?” I pouted. “I’m always the ugliest one.”

“That’s ’cause you are the ugly one in the family.” Daryl cackled and nearly spilled his hot chocolate all over his pajamas.

My mug was on the floor beside me now, and I crossed my arms and furrowed my brows. “Mommy! Make him stop.”

Mom gave my brother the glare. “Daryl, be nice.”

He rolled his eyes and shot me a dirty look. I stuck my tongue out at him.

“Hey, if you two keep at it we’ll call it a night and put you to bed.” Dad’s stern voice always made us stop bickering.

I picked up my mug and took a sip. We all nodded in silent agreement to proceed.

My dad cleared his throat and started reading in his lilted accent. “Chapter 1. The River Bank. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home…”

He read slow and careful, stumbling a bit on the part with all the ings. When it was the character’s time to speak, he handed the book to me so I could read the dialogue. This was my favorite part. I put on a dramatic voice and enunciated everything in my best British accent, because in my mind, Mole was from England.

We continued like this for the next hour, each taking turns reading from the old, tattered book. The pages were yellowing and the cover had tape on the spine to keep the cracking paper from peeling off altogether. We’d read that book every year on Christmas eve for as long as I could remember.

Each of us made the characters our own. My mom always gave Badger a grumbly voice, lowering her head to read as deep as she could. It always made me laugh. My dad’s naturally higher voice gave Rat the perfect warmth necessary for the friendly creature. Daryl gave Toad a British accent too, but his was huffier and more manic than mine.

With ten minutes to spare until midnight, and my brother and I dozing off, Dad closed the book and called it a night. “Okay, time for sleep. You two have everything you need out here?”

Daryl and I nodded our sleepy heads. “Alright, good night then.” He bent over and kissed each of us on the forehead.

My mom helped us into our makeshift sleeping bags with pillows and double blankets. Even on a tile floor, it was still pretty comfortable. We barely felt or heard her as she said goodnight.

They went to bed and turned off the lights, leaving only the glow of the Christmas tree lights and decorations as illumination for us. The sweet smell of pine filled my nose as I turned over to face my brother. “Good night, Mr. Toad.” I yawned.

“Good night, Mr. Mole,” he yawned back.

Nubile

This is for last week’s prompt for the 52 week writing challenge, “a creation myth.” It got a little poetic, but I like it. Enjoy!

She set her fingers to work, diligent and earnest in her desire to make companions for her blue blanket above the heads of mortals. Oh sweet, sensitive sky, don’t be sad. You’ll be lonely no more.

With a touch of stardust from the heavens mixed with drops of salt water from the ocean below, she concocted the substance that would be the foundation of her new creations. The elixir would not be enough though, as with any sweeping gust or downpour of rain it would disintegrate through the sky’s open hands. No, she needed something to weave the potion into a tangible mass that wouldn’t fly away so easily, but float and hover until the end of time.

She glided over to the trees and asked the birds, May I borrow some feathers, my friends? I need to make companions for the sky, and they shall be your comrades, too.

The birds chirped and shook, dropping scattered feathers for her to gather in all shades of white, grey and black. She nodded her gratitude and brought the feathers back with her up into the blue, moving her fingers nimbly up and over, stretching and twisting the feathers with the stardust and rain mixture until a light and fluffy ball emerged, resting in place and wandering here and there, but never too far.

She smiled and marveled at the little wonder, then repeated the process. Over and over, each time producing a new sky beast. Some were fluffier, and some stretched out longer, but they all emitted a smoky skin and bobbed back and forth, in tune with their brother sky.

As the final puff took its place in the sky, she reached her arms out in goodbye and blew them each a kiss. Keep each other company, and no matter how far you may roam, I always know you’ll come back home.

Grudges Come Back to Haunt Us

This is for last week’s prompt to the 52 week writing challenge, “a story about justice being done.” I’d struggled with this at first because I felt like justice was such a loaded and complicated term, but I think I captured that feeling pretty well here. Warning: there is profanity and violence in this story. Proceed with caution!

Kieran sat on the hard bench, stifled by the collar of his button up shirt and stiff blazer. Neither of those things compared to the cuffs around his wrists though. The cold metal chafed his vulnerable skin, and the raw red welts made him see the blood on his hands from that night.

***

            He hadn’t meant for things to get out of hand. He just wanted an explanation for why the man he’d considered his best friend for so long would betray him that way. It’d been five years since the night Kieran caught him with the woman he loved, but it still grated him to see their pictures online, happy together, smiling, taunting him.

He should have let it go. It was done and over. Nothing left to do or say from any of them. But he didn’t let go. He held onto the pain and anger and let it fester away at his soul, fueling that rage with endless bottles of Jack and Jim. Holding grudges was always Kieran’s specialty, and that night it overwhelmed him.

With breath reeking of alcohol, and a staggering step, he arrived at his former best friend’s house, banging a fist so hard against the door he splintered the area around the knocker. Kieran heard grumbling from the other side as a light went on in the dark house. They’d already been asleep. People do that at two in the morning.

The door opened and for the first time in five years, Kieran stood face to face with the man who’d stolen his girlfriend from him. “Kieran, what the hell are you doing?”

“You never told me why, Lucius. Why’d you do it?” Kieran slurred his words.

Lucius sighed. “Kieran, you’re drunk. Let me get you a cab home.”

Kieran reached out. “No, you’re gonna answer my question.” His voice rose in volume. “Why did you take her from me?”

“Kieran, please. It’s late and you’re gonna wake the neighbors.”

“Then fucking answer me,” Kieran bellowed.

Lucius put a hand out, pleading for him to quiet down. “Okay, okay, let’s talk. Come around this way.” He led Kieran to the shed on the side of the house.

“You were my best friend.” Kieran got quiet now. “And I loved her.”

“Kieran, I’m sorry. It just happened.”

“Bullshit.” Yelling again.

Lucius put a hand up again. “Look, Kieran, the truth is, you have a problem. And Mary, she couldn’t take it anymore. We tried to get you help, but look at you now. You refuse to face your problems head on.”

Kieran’s nostrils flared. “I had it under control. Until you went and took her from me.”

Lucius shook his head. “She came to me, looking for a friend to help. And I tried. But we couldn’t help you. And in the process…” He looked down, guilty.

“Yeah, in the process of wanting to help me, you abandoned me. Ran off into the sunset together.” Kieran was wobbling now, getting in close to Lucius.

Lucius reached a hand out to Kieran’s shoulder, but Kieran knocked it away. “I don’t want your pity. I don’t want anything from you.” Spit flew from his mouth now.

“Kieran, please. Calm down.” Lucius’s voice shook. “You’re gonna cause a scene and I don’t want someone to call the police on you.” He reached a hand out again, but this time Kieran grabbed it and knocked Lucius back.

Lucius stumbled against the table, but still tried to settle his comrade’s rage. “Please, Kieran. Look at yourself. You’re a mess right now. Don’t do this.”

Kieran stepped forward and grabbed his former friend’s shirt front. “You took everything from me.” His other hand came forward in a fist, full force. Bone cracked against bone, but Kieran felt nothing.

Lucius tried to cry out, but Kieran kept going, not letting the man who’d taken his life take a single breath. By the time he realized what he’d done, Lucius lay still in his arms. Kieran shook him but received no response. “Lucius? Lucius?” Nothing.

Kieran’s eyes teared up and his breath hitched. “Oh god, no. What did I do? Fuck. Shit. Fuck.”

“Lucius what’s going—?” The sleepy voice behind him stopped short. Mary stepped forward into the light. “Kieran? Where’s—?” That’s when she saw him and her hands shot up to her face. “Oh my god, Kieran. What happened? What did you do?”

Kieran let go of Lucius’s limp body, watching in horror as his former friend fell to the floor, unmoving. “Mary, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. It just happened.”

She knelt down, hands shaking as she reached for her husband’s neck to check his pulse. She pulled them back instantly like she’d been bitten by a snake. Kieran ran out, not looking back at the damage he’d done.

***

            Now, he waited for his name to be called. Waited for judgment. Waited to be forced to look Mary in the eye one last time before he was found guilty of first degree murder.

“Kieran Nieto.” This was it. He took a deep breath and got up on his feet. It felt strange to stumble forward without alcohol in his system.

As he walked down the aisle to the front of the court room, he managed to catch Mary’s eye and found her gazing back, stone-faced with eyes cold and hard as ice. She had every right to hate him. He’d gone too far. Past the point of no return.

The judge’s gavel came down and Kieran swallowed down the lump in his throat. This would be quick and easy. He already knew what he wanted to do. When the moment of confession came, for the first time in his life, he did the right thing. “In the case of…” He hardly heard the rest. He was ready with his answer. “Guilty.” The word fell from his lips like a broken promise.

The next hour or so went in a flurry as he was propelled from the room to his next destination. Handled from one officer to another, he finally made his way to a secure vehicle, only to find himself alone at the end.

Kieran looked around, confused at this breach in protocol. A sinking feeling hit the pit of his stomach, and then just as suddenly, a sharp, cold pain shot into his spine.

“There’s no saving you, Kieran. You’ve been dead a long time.” He’d never heard Mary’s voice that way before. Soulless. Frozen. Venomous.

“Mary.” He gurgled as his knees buckled beneath him. “Please.”

She came around to face him. “This is your justice, Kieran.”

No, he thought as it all faded away. It’s your ghost.

Christmas Lights in the Middle of August

Almost done catching up on the 52 week writing challenge. This one’s for the prompt “a story set in a strange small town.” Inspired by the season. Enjoy!

The sunbaked clay road seemed to go on forever, but finally I found civilization. At least, I thought I had. The small town had a few scattered houses as I made my way in to its center, and every single one had Christmas lights and decorations still up. Or up too early. It’s all about perspective.

I didn’t see any kids running around the park I passed. No neighbors sitting out on the front porches. Who’d be out in this heat, though? Still, the air seemed to stand still around me, like not a living soul dwelled in the area to breathe it in.

For a second I thought I’d stumbled upon an old, abandoned Christmas village. Like Santa’s Enchanted Hell Forest. Then, a jingling doorbell caught my ear just off to the side. I turned my head and saw a sweet, smiling elderly woman with snow white hair. Mrs. Claus. I smiled back.

“Hello dear. Are you lost?” Her voice sounded like a lifelong smoker’s. Didn’t match the rosy cheeks and bright eyes at all.

“I’m afraid so. My car broke down a few miles outside of town. Was looking for some help.” I brought a hand up to shield my eyes from the bright rays of sunlight hitting me directly in the face.

She beckoned me forward. “Come in, dear. We have food, water and a phone. Let’s see what we can do.”

I obeyed and followed her inside. It looked like a little mom and pop hardware store. A tall, robust around the waist old man sat behind the counter, a full white beard and head of hair to match. I was really starting to think this was the famous Claus duo from stories.

“Afternoon, son. What can we do for you?” His gruff voice expelled bursts of air, like it was hard for him to breathe.

“His car broke down, dear. Is there someone we can call?” his wife asked.

He waved a hand. “Nonsense. I’ll take a look.”

She shook her head. “Oh, Nick. There you go again. Thinking yourself a mechanic.”

“Every vehicle’s the same inside, Ilsa. Don’t matter it’s outside,” he insisted.

“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you. If I could just use your phone, I’ll gladly call Triple A,” I said.

Old Nick chuckled. “Won’t get a service car out here. We’re not even on a map.”

I frowned. “How do you get mail then?”

“We don’t. Mail doesn’t come here. Only comes to our other house.”

He pulled a utility belt around his big belly and pulled a tool kit from behind the counter. “C’mon, son. Let’s take a look at her.”

“Well, it’s a few miles outside of town. I don’t wanna make you walk so far.”

He waved a hand again. “We’ll the take the wagon then.”

Ilsa bustled forward with cold glasses of water in hand. “Dear, please, take something to drink first. You’ll faint from dehydration.”

I licked my lips at the sight of the water. I’d forgotten how parched I was. “Thank you.” I grabbed for the water and brought the sweet, cool elixir to my lips. Without stopping for breath I drank it all the way down to the last drop.

I looked around as I wiped my mouth. “Where is everyone else around this town, anyway? I didn’t see them as I walked in.”

“Oh, they’re around.” Ilsa smiled, a twinkle in her eye. “They’re just shy around strangers.”

“Guess you don’t get many visitors out here, huh?”

Nick laughed. “You got that right.”

“And what about all the Christmas décor? It’s the middle of August.”

“It makes us feel at home,” Ilsa answered. “So far from the north, we get lonesome sometimes.”

“This is our summer home,” Nick explained. “A place to get away and regroup for the coming year’s work load.”

“It certainly is isolated.” Why would anyone vacation here?

“Ready, son? Let’s get going on that car.”

Nick led me out to a shed where he unveiled a bright red convertible that looked brand new. “I though you said it was a wagon?”

He gave another rumbly laugh. “I only call it the wagon. It’s actually a Corvette.”

“I can see that.” I smiled like an idiot. Santa Claus drives a convertible when he’s away at his summer home.

We made our way to my car, Nick taking the convertible to its max speed and me grinning like a kid on Christmas. We arrived in no time to find my abandoned car still sitting in the sun, hood up and a sign I’d left in the grime-ridden window that read “PLEASE DON’T STEAL ME!”

Nick waddled over to look at the engine and went to work with his tools. I stood by, watching his nimble fingers run back and forth like he was casting a charm and within minutes, I don’t know how, but the dead engine roared to life and my car was back in commission.

“That’s amazing. How’d you do it?” I gaped.

Nick winked. “Got the magic touch.”

He got in his convertible and called back, “Follow me back in so we can get you on your way.”

Back in the weird, seemingly empty Christmas town, I saw something strange as I drove in. A few tiny kids playing on the jungle gym and swings in the park I’d seen empty before scattered as I drove by. Real skittish, these townsfolk.

Like shadows that disappeared just out of the corner of my eye, I saw more and more of the people in the houses. Everyone seemed so small, and elf-like, but I couldn’t get a good look to tell who they were.

Inside the hardware store again I looked closer and noticed the shelves were not full of tools and things to buy, but rather projects, half finished, complete and just started. Objects that looked like toys and machines and gadgets. I scratched my head and finally blurted out, “Okay, I know this is gonna sound ridiculous, but who are you guys?”

“Just ol’ Nick and Ilsa, dear. With our closest friends.” She smiled as she handed me a plate of cookies.

“Uh huh,” I muttered as I took a bite.

Nick laughed. “No need to worry about us, son. We’re just a couple old farts getting by out of the way of society. City’s too noisy and these old bones need a break from the cold from time to time.”

I decided not to press the matter. Besides, a grown ass man shouldn’t be thinking that Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and their elves would build a whole town in the middle of nowhere for their summer vacation. Or that they’d exist altogether.

Nick pulled out a map and set it on the table, marking the route to take out of town. “Now when you come up at this crossroads, take the road right. It’ll take you straight to the highway and that should get you back on track.”

I nodded as I packed away the snacks and water bottles Ilsa had given me. “Thank you both so much. It really was nice of you to do so much for a total stranger.”

“Nonsense. We’re not strangers. We’re old friends.” Nick laughed.

I couldn’t help but laugh along with him. It really did feel like I’d known them my whole life.

Outside, I got back in my car, turned the key and put my hand on the gear. “Thanks again, Nick.”

“No problem, Jack.” He patted my shoulder, his grip warm and firm.

At that moment I realized I’d never given either of them my name. “Hey, how did you—?”

Nick winked. “Mind the snow on the roads as you get close to home. Old man Frost likes to play tricks sometimes.”

I shook my head, unable to believe what I was hearing. I decided to just accept it and go on. As I drove out of town, I caught a better glimpse of the residents as they turned the lights on for the coming night. Behind me, in the rearview mirror, sparkling flashes of color flickered, the whole town lit up like a Christmas tree.

I smiled. Santa’s Enchanted Summer Getaway.