Thursday, July 26, 2012

Write On Edge: Longhand Challenge

Red Writing Hood gives us 500 words this week to explore a written letter.

I have a poor history of writing letters, much to my mother's consternation. She raised me better than that, I assure you. The only time I wrote faithfully was when my buddy signed up for the U.S. Marines. I stopped writing letters after his death in Afghanistan. Truth is, letter writing is very emotional and extremely personal, and the one person I believed I could write letters for, died before I could send the last one.

I may never recover. The last letter I wrote still haunts me.

There's another letter that haunts me, but for a completely different reason. Sullivan Ballou penned the most beautiful words to his wife. His story and that letter I heard for the first time in September of 1990. To this date, I have yet to come across anything that has affected me so deeply. "Sara, my love for you is deathless..." Sullivan wrote on July 14, 1861. He died a week later, on July 29, 1861, from wounds received in the Battle of Bull Run.

Please follow the link and read the letter. It will impact your life.

So, forgive me for being emotional. I wanted you to know, dear readers, what this prompt conjures up for me.

I offer the following in response: The Last Postcard

“Tara, I’ve some bad news about Uncle Jim,” Momma had tears in her eyes.

I knew what was coming next. My heart was going to break. Uncle Jim was an easy man to love, though most found him a hard man to like, especially when he drank. He wasn’t always a drunk. Apparently, there was a time before the bottle when he was the pride of the family.

There was no need for her to say anything additional, but she continued, “He died, two weeks ago. He was trying to save a family from a burning building…”

Momma said once Grandfather believed Jim was the only son-in-law worthy of the title until Aunt Jolene and Cousin Grace perished in an apartment fire. Momma watched it happen on the news channel. Jim had to hear about it from his commanding officer while they were in Grenada. Momma said that he was never right after that. He slipped into a bottle before I was born and then after my third birthday, he simply disappeared. I was the only family he spoke to after that.

He’d send me a random postcard, or he called when I was the only one home. I remembered the last conversation we had, about my dreams to attend an old world university, but there was no way we could ever afford the opportunity. We lived in Wilcox Springs, population 530, jobs 14. My uncle Jim may have been running from the pain of his past and this forsaken town, but it might’ve been the best thing he ever did after he crawled out of the bottle.

“Fire claimed him?” I asked Momma hoarsely after the silence grew too much for me to bear. “I think somehow he would’ve wanted that.”

“He’s left this for you,” she said, pulling a postcard out of the legal-looking envelope.

Too stunned to cry, I inspected the postcard, recognizing his terse script. Remember, Tara.  I turned the postcard around to view the peaceful grounds of Trinity College. “This is enough,” I said honestly.

“Honey, that’s not all,” Momma whispered, catching my gaze as she offered me the documents in her hand.

I took the communication delicately. The black words on white background played games with my vision momentarily. “To Tara,” I read aloud, shaking, “who reminds me of all that Grace would have been, I give all I would have given her had she survived me, to be held in trust with a small monthly stipend, and the remaining in full upon successful completion of a degree from Trinity College, or other higher learning facility of your choosing.”

“That sneaky drunken fool made a fortune and he’s left it all to you,” Momma said without venom, tears dancing happily in her eyes.

I clutched his last postcard to my heart and refused to let go.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Write On Edge: Secret Challenge

Red Writing Hood this week gave us a poem by Robert Frost.

We dance round in a ring and suppose
But the secret sits in the middle and knows

Word limit is 450.

Secrets are tedious, fickle creatures. They entice us. We want to believe that we are the only ones who know, but inevitably we feel pressure to share our special knowledge with others. Sometimes the game is harmless. Sometimes, the secrets we tell sink ships. 

I offer the following in response: A Game of Secrets

“Someone in this room is a traitor.” The words tripped softly from the king’s lips but triggered a tsunami of silence across his dinner guests. Horror descended next when he added, “And the traitor was poisoned during supper.”

A cold sweat forming on my neck, I shot the king a look. He smiled back.

A servant replaced the centerpiece with a golden chalice. “There is the antidote,” the king announced.

Bromley gave a nervous chuckle, “Surely, your Majesty jests-“

“We are disappointed, Lord Bromley. Our father thought you an intelligent man, and yet you call us a jester. We are your king!”

I tried to remember the flavors of the meal. His Majesty ruffled feathers with his rise to power. There were whisperings among the courtiers that the king was mad. His temper tantrum last week left a prostitute broken and bloodied. It was hushed of course, but his majesty was growing paranoid and unpredictable of late. And I had a secret he wouldn’t like to hear.

Elisse met my gaze with worry in her ice-blue eyes, the only blemish in her calm exterior. “Your Majesty, my husband, I am sure Lord Bromley meant no disrespect.” Her voice was steady, unlike my churning stomach. Surely our affair had not been discovered. We were so discreet.

Like the others, I shifted my gaze from the chalice in the center of the table, to the sea of surprised and disturbed faces at the table. My vision began to blur and played to my fear that I had been the one poisoned.

The king sat back in his chair, a smug smile plastered above his chin. “Time is running out. If the traitor doesn’t drink the entire contents of that chalice before the effects of the poison takes root, he will die.”

Lord Bromley dabbed a handkerchief across his brow. “Your Majesty, I can’t believe that any of us, your Majesty’s trusted advisors, would commit treason.”

The king answered with a silent glare. My lungs were iron and refused to breathe. Panicked accusations were hurled around the table, none of which I could hear above the ringing in my ears. I prayed, ready to reach for the chalice.

Movement caught the corner of my eye. Stunned, I watched Lord Percival lean forward with a shaky hand. “Majesty, forgive me.”

We watched him drink the contents of the chalice and then fall over dead. Shocked, we turned to the king for explanation.

“The poison was in the chalice,” he stated simply. “We really didn’t think any of you were traitors.”

Breath returned to my lungs as a new secret grew in my gut. I was going to kill the king. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Write On Edge: Forbidden Challenge

Red Writing Hood this week gives us 450 words to explore something forbidden or taboo.

I've had a pretty brutal week so I wanted something lighthearted. We met Nikki (Tracy's cousin) on the beach during the sand challenge.

I offer the following in response: Cookie Hunt

Nikki scoped out the kitchen. She knew it by heart, of course, but her mother like to change the hiding places. She tiptoed in, her heart lurching at every sound, from the gulls crying outside the beach-house to the staccato snoring of Uncle Pete from the living room. The microwave display advertised the time in neon green, a time the adults would wake and shuffle to the kitchen for the acrid coffee they all consumed by the bucket-loads. As if by magic, the coffee maker beeped itself on, and that putrid smell permeated the room in seconds. If she was to succeed, she would have to act fast.

“If I were a cookie,” she mused, concentrating on the pantry first and then the bread box. Coming up empty after the pots-and-pans-drawer proved fruitless, she turned her attention to the freezer. She shivered from the escaping air as she wrenched the door open, disappointed with the selection of frozen peas and carrots.

“What are you looking for?” Joshua startled her. He stood casually in the doorway, blocking any chance of a clean getaway.

Would a cousin rat me out? she wondered. Silence iced over the conversation as if it was leaking in the open freezer.

“I hope you’re not looking to spoil your breakfast,” a smile tugged at his mouth as he shuffled to the coffee maker. “I recall there’s some oatmeal in the bottom cabinet, there.”

Nikki moved to the indicated cabinet door, confused, but unwilling to relinquish her reason for being in the kitchen.  Opening the door, she discovered Inside, as bright as a golden church idol, the family's teddy-bear-shaped cookie jar. “Josh!” she exclaimed, turning in her excitement. “I’m forbidden to have cookies before lunch you know.”

He poured coffee into a waiting mug, a grin covering half his face. “Strange, I could swear you had oatmeal. Could be the fact I haven’t had my coffee yet.”

She put the jar back after smuggling a few chocolate chips into her robe pocket. She would have to think of something nice to do for her cousin, but for the moment, all she could accomplish was an evil giggle.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Write On Edge: Freedom Challenge

Red Writing Hood gives us 400 words this week.


Mankind has spent its entire existence in pursuit of Freedom. Even now, around the world, some of us are seeking freedom from bills, and are working hard to pay them off. Some want freedom from their parents and are working hard to move out on their own. Some want the freedom to travel so are working hard to get that promotion at their place of work. Or some want the freedom to do absolutely nothing at all, and have worked hard their whole lives so they can retire. Freedom isn't free. For each measure of individual freedom, there is a price, a sacrifice to be made, and it requires a fanatic devotion to maintain once obtained. Freedom is fleeting and delicate, and when we barter our freedoms, we gain nothing and lose everything.

Oops, that was more dismal than I intended it to be. I really should put up the soapbox.

So close to July 4th for the U.S.A. and July 14th for France, I find it difficult to avoid the more obvious route here. So I've decided not to fight it. We last met Thaddeus here. Paul Revere rode at midnight. The British carried orders to imprison Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and to seize minuteman supplies.

I offer the following in response: A Budding Patriot

The pitched battle yielded the tactical withdrawal of the British Regulars. A latecomer, Thaddeus gripped his primed rifle, straining to see through the smoky haze. Shot peppered the ground around him. The sound of a horse reached his ears and he turned towards its origin, squeezing the trigger as he aimed for its Redcoat rider. He dropped back to the earth, already dispensing a measure of powder into the warm rifle barrel. Ramrod impacting the load, he was back in position, ready to fire.

“Push ‘em hard!” someone cried.

Gun-smoke obscured his vision and sulfur burned his lungs as he breathed through his next round of fire then repeated his reloading ceremony. Powder. Linen. Ball. Ram. Prime the flashpan. Aim. Fire. Hearing someone call out for shot, Thaddeus reflexively checked his pouch. He had three balls left.

Hearing hooves of horses, he plastered himself to the ground behind his berm. Equine shadows thundered over him, the hock of one missing his head by inches. Thaddeus spit the dirt from his mouth and pushed himself up to reload.

Powder. Linen. Ball.

Redcoat approaching.

Ramrod. Flashpan.

Devil raising bayonet.

Aim. Squeeze.

Redcoat dropping.

Thaddeus ran the few feet to his felled victim. He knelt for a time next to the dying man, unable to move, watching his chest rise and fall in shallow, rapid succession, then shudder to complete stillness. Instinct made Thaddeus divest the redcoat of weapons, shot, and powder. “May angels guide you home,” he whispered, knowing that this death would haunt him as Christopher Seider did.

Awareness resuscitated by a nearby muzzle flash, he reeled to catch his bearings. There were more militiamen beside him, reloading and priming. Thaddeus forgot his kill for the moment, renewed at the sight. The redcoats were vastly outnumbered. Giving chase, the militia was pressing the regulars back towards Boston.

Hope was heavy on the breeze as he realized he wasn’t just there to keep the redcoats from arresting Mr. Adams. His participation was about all of it; Christopher Seider’s death, the massacre, the tea, the taxes, the frustration. No more would he fear customs officers at the harbor. No longer would he yield to a man wearing a red coat. Thaddeus could taste freedom, and he would die before returning to the shackles of oppression. He loaded his rifle, preparing for a new target..

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day, America!

Please take a moment, my fellow Americans, between the hamburgers and the fireworks, to remember the price paid and the debt owed.

On the Fourth of July, 1776, the final draft of the grievances of a People was approved, two days after the Lee Resolution was enacted. Fifty-six delegates signed the document over the following weeks, the last rumored to sign on November 4th of that year. Within the many copies of the document lies the best-known sentence in the English Language: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

By the time of ratification, American colonists had been engaged in warfare with Great Britain over a year. The Battles of Lexington and Concord, the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys and then Colonel Benedict Arnold, and the Battle of Breed's Hill, all took place in 1775.

Blood had already been spilled, lives had already been sacrificed. The course of action was arguably set in stone before it was set to paper.

Our Founding Fathers had a great burden on their shoulders. They never presented themselves as perfect. We the People who survived them these 236 years, have placed them on alabaster pedestals with lofty heights. Legends are so long persisted that there is shock when one among us realizes that our Founding Fathers were mere men. Men with flaws, certainly. Men with agendas, possibly. But most assuredly, they were men with Hope.

They had Hope for reconciliation with British Parliament. They had Hope that as they were subjects of the Crown, their goodly King George would hear their concerns and acknowledge their burdens. They had Hope that Liberty, although delicate and fleeting, might survive if given the chance to grow unfettered.

The penalty of High Treason against the British Crown was the very public and brutal practice of hanging, drawing, and quartering. Our Founding Fathers, the Men, potentially signed their death warrant when they signed the Declaration on behalf of the colonies that elected them to Congress. They could have been hanged to the point of death, emasculated, disemboweled, and then chopped up for their limbs to be scattered. Women who followed the example set by Abigail Adams could have been burned alive at the stake.

And yet their need to expel the bonds of an oppressive government was greater than their fears for their own lives and livelihoods. Their desire to give the gift of Freedom and Liberty to their Posterity so overwhelmed their senses that they risked this and more so that We the People might endure.

Yes, the United States of America have had some dark years. We the People have at times allowed injustice to prevail in our borders. It is easy for a People to look back from afar, out of time and place, and pass judgment. It is inconceivable to our modern sensibilities that a person could own another person and trade him as a commodity, that tribes of people native to our soil could be removed from their homes under deplorable conditions and marched to inhospitable lands to be forgotten for the sake of expansion. We are not alone in this; other nations great and small still practice and suffer tyranny. But if We the People forget our past, ignore the pain and blood and death it took to rise above our faults, We will be doomed to repeat it, and suffer all of it again.

To paraphrase a sentiment held by Benjamin Franklin: We the People who choose to relinquish our Liberty for a little security deserve neither and will lose both, dishonoring those who sacrificed all to obtain it.

We the People are charged by our Founders with the care of the delicate Liberty Tree. Who among Us would see it fester? Not I. I hope and endeavor to keep sacred the responsibility gifted me and I thank God everyday that I was born an American.

Happy Birthday America! 
May your blessings be great for centuries to come, and your standard proudly wave o'er mountain majesties and fruited plains.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today, I am 38 years old.

Mom recalled Grandma saying once on the subject of growing old, "I feel the same as I did when I was sixteen. My body just won't let me do what I could when I was sixteen."

And I myself breathe the truth of that statement, feeling my physical strengths weaken as my cerebral weaknesses strengthen. But this year...this year I feel different.

This year I feel alive.

I've been without gainful employment for six months now, and a sense of failure tries to creep into my bones. I've dived into my writing, participating actively in prompts, pushing my ability beyond my comfort zone, and with that drive has come a sense of success. I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

I want to be a writer.

I am a writer, but I want to support myself with monies generated from my writing. This is what I want to do. I don't have to be rich, nor do I need fame. But a modest living that will enable me to purchase a plane ticket for a vacation without worrying how rent will be met, and a few dollars I can set aside for a rainy day and a few more dollars I can set aside for my nieces and nephew to do with whatever they want. The ability to set my own hours so that I can visit with my parents and my inlaws, party with my friends, colleagues, and fans, and not have to get approval from my supervisor for time off. I want to live without needing another's leave.

I want my American Dream. A home, a dog, and a dishwasher that actually cleans my dishes. Oh, and a Winnebago and world peace.

It is this decision that woke me from my coma. From this minute forward, every step I take will be to propel me closer to this dream.

Today, I am 38 years old.
Today is the day of my birth.