Friday, August 28, 2015

A SOUL'S KISS, excerpt #3

I must have blacked out. When I open my eyes, I’m staring at my knees. They are covered by a brand new, clean hospital gown reaching to mid-calf. I’m sitting on the edge, the very edge, of a hospital bed in the recovery room. A nurse is turned away with her back to me. She fiddles with the monitor and runs her hand along the tubes that braid their way toward my head. My other head.
I hop down and look at myself lying on the bed. So pale. Still not breathing on my own. I sigh and then wonder how I can sigh. My senses seem sharper. I can read the fine print on a label across the room. I hear the two-beat thuds of a keyboard beyond the door. How can I hear individual letters being typed sporadically? The sickly scent of antiseptic cuts through the faint whiffs I get of the nurse’s mouthwash, deodorant, and hand sanitizer. She turns and looks at me—well, through me, I guess.
“How ya doing, Jessica?” she whispers as she adjusts all the paraphernalia attached to me. “Keep on fighting, sweetie. You’re gonna pull through.”
Well, that’s encouraging. Her words warm me. In fact, I feel warm all over. My feet no longer beg for socks; some ugly green footies are serving my toes very well. Huh. I touch my abdomen. No pain. I check for blood. No blood. There’s a pocket, though, and something is sticking out. A paper. Maybe a lab report? Or discharge papers?
Or love note?
Silly me. I try to pull the paper out, but it’s part of the pocket, stuck or glued.
“Hang in there, Jessica,” the nurse says. I get distracted for an instant and suddenly there’s no pocket on the gown. Of course not. Now I’m not certain I ever saw a pocket or a piece of paper. Those super sharp sensations I experienced a moment before flee as I watch the nurse squirt something into my IV line. I move toward the door and scoot out behind her when she leaves.
I wander around a while trying to figure out where my family might be. I am oddly calm, not fighting for life, or panicking. The hallways seem dreary and lifeless. The early evening light spoons dimpled shadows on the walls near the windowed waiting room. It’s empty. I take the stairs and search floor by floor. All the waiting rooms are vacant. By accident I find Keith’s room, but he’s sound asleep. I try twice but I can’t get into his head.
The last place I look is the main floor waiting room. It’s kind of noisy, but there’s a “grief room” in the corner. The door is shut and a sliding sign says “occupied.”  Hoping I’m invisible to whoever is inside I will myself through the door. Easy.
I’m shocked. Rashanda. With Tyler. Not who I was expecting to find hidden away in a grieving room.
In each other’s arms.
No way.

The tiny room has a love seat and two chairs. They are cuddled together on the love seat. Rashanda’s head is on Tyler’s shoulder, his arm around her, and his other hand holding one of hers. Cozy. I don’t know why I should feel the least little twinge of jealousy, but I do. They’re obviously very comfortable. So comfortable that they have dozed off. I get it. They haven’t slept much the last couple of days. This is traumatic for them. Still . . . this is . . . off.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A SOUL'S KISS, excerpt #2

I see Carrie, a girl in my social studies class, and call out, my lungs finally working, “Hey, Carrie, can I borrow your phone a sec?” She totally ignores me and walks around the corner.
Then I see Kayla. She’s headed for Tyler who is being mobbed by a bunch of kids near the drinking fountain. She won’t ignore me, I’m sure. I come up behind her as another girl asks her if she knew that Keith Mullins was Tyler’s brother.
I stop short. Huh? Keith Mullins? The senior who is friends with Michael Hoffman? The guy I was in a car with yesterday? I could have been in that accident!
And then somebody else swings a book bag at my chest. On purpose.
It’s like they can’t see me.
I land on my back, the breath knocked out of me. I need a doctor with a set of those shock paddles.
I feel like a flipped turtle flailing away to right itself, and nobody is coming to my aid. Not even chivalrous Tyler. Kayla is only steps away and as soon as I get some air in my lungs I gasp a plea. “Kayla, hey.”
“She can’t hear you,” someone says, kneeling down next to me. The voice is familiar. I can’t decide if I’ll be elated or deflated if it’s gorgeous Michael Hoffman coming to my assistance again. A hand takes mine and pulls me up. The bell rings and everyone scatters to class, a few of them, no doubt, facing detention for reaching the limit on tardies.
“Thanks,” I say, brushing off my butt. I have that funny feeling like I’ve forgotten something. Where are my books? Did I remember to bring back the drama script? I pat my back pocket, uncertain. I need to go to my locker before next hour, but now it’s too late.
“You’re welcome. How do you feel?”
“Okay,” I say and finally look at the angular face of tall, dark, and handsome Keith Mullins. Keith Mullins! “Hey.”
“Hey yourself.”
Keith’s eyes flicker back and forth from my right eye to my left eye. One of his eyes is more dilated than the other. He has a bump on his forehead that his hair partially hides. We spend an uncomfortable moment evaluating one another, alone in the hallway.
I remember something and say, “I heard you broke your leg.”
“I did. It’s in a cast, slung up on some kind of contraption.”
“What?” The tender tissue around my eye protests the scrunching I’m giving my forehead. “Huh? What are you doing here? Weren’t you in a car accident?”
Tyler steps out of room 236 and crosses in front of us to head to the boys’ bathroom.
“Tyler, look, it’s Keith.” He completely ignores me.

“He can’t hear you,” Keith repeats, almost like a chorus. “Or see you. Us, I mean.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

OUT OF EXODIA, excerpt #1

I CLIMB DOWN, duck through the crowd, and run nearer to the edge. I clasp my hands over my ears to muffle the painful cries. I see ribbons of blue diminishing into the depths, but I’m not close enough to see the bottom. The crashing sounds of metal are distant pings underscored with explosions. The thump of each body hitting the rocks so far below is not audible even to me, but I know when each scream breaks off.
Lydia and her mother, Jenny, come up on either side of me. Lydia pulls my arms down from my ears and takes hold of my hand. There is only a single breath of silence before a cheer goes up.
“We’re free!”
The joy is palpable. From their sleds and packs people pull out banners and flags. Children grab the ends and parade around while adults shout and sing and whistle and make more noise than a thousand lions.
Mira leads dozens of women in a dance line that follows the children as they snake among us. When she passes us she pulls Lydia away and I hate that I’m no longer touching her hand. Without her euphoria coursing through my being I feel as if my special gemfry powers are shutting down.
Suddenly the shouts and claps fade to nothing. I spot a large group of Reds who have stopped their jubilation and appear to be marching toward me. As they pass through the crowd people act bewildered, ashamed, even horrified. All eyes are riveted on this group. The spontaneous excitement of our victory over the Blues has morphed into a wretched misery. Too quiet.
“The Mourners,” Jenny whispers.
“What do they want?”


Friday, August 7, 2015

EXODIA excerpt #2

I walk away from the fence to get another perspective of my home. At night it doesn’t look much different than the dilapidated dwellings I just passed, only bigger. I feel no tender pull to return home.
I hear a growl that makes me stop mid-stride. My head and hands and feet freeze. My eyes track around the shadows. Before I get to the edge of my peripheral vision I see the dog. He’s a stone’s throw to my right. If I charge the fence and leap up I’ll make it. He takes a single step and his throaty rumble is only slightly louder than the pounding in my chest. I hope I’m only imagining the slow advance of other dogs in the distance. Stalking shadows. Though a pack of wild dogs tearing me to shreds seems like justice for the crime I committed.
The growling intensifies, grows deeper and my fingers tighten on the knife. I judge the distance. I need to run.
I need to run now, before he launches himself, knocks me down, and locks his fangs on my neck. My knife is only a few inches long, not good for much more than peeling an orange or picking at my dirty nails.
His front leg moves up. I’m wasting precious seconds. My legs move before I consciously command them. I run full out toward the nearest section of fence, ten feet closer than Barrett’s spot to cross. The wild dog lunges, crosses the distance between us in an instant. I jump too soon and catch the links lower than I should, but I clamber up a couple feet as the dog hits the fence, and his hard body sends a quiver along the wires. I almost lose my grip. His claws reach the metal inches below my heels and I crab up a little higher. I transfer my knife to my mouth so I can get a better hold and climb to the top.
The barbs are fortified with razor wire here so I cannot climb over. The dog has yet to bark. His growling gurgles with the saliva that drips off his fangs in anticipation. No other dogs have joined him. He is a lone killer.

Like me.