Time-Travel Time

As a response to the weekly prompt from my Florida writers’ group, to write about incongruity, I have penned this haiku verse to describe the joys and wonders of the writing process.

Haiku is poetry of Japanese origin, written in English as seventeen syllables in three lines of five, seven, and five. It is unusual to string a number of them together to form one poem as I have done here.

through time I travel 
unrestrained, unimpeded,
here at my keyboard

imagination
carries me from here to there
through tapping fingers

fixed by mortal coil
though I am, my mind runs free
through the universe

in tales tall and true,
from realm to realm I wander,
unfettered, unbound

never knowing where
my next destination is,
or where I shall land

my relentless muse
pushes and pulls me along
the paths she chooses

compelling me to
explore her capricious whims,
to write what she sees

telling her stories
discovered along the way---
prose and poesy

unable to quell
her relentless siren-call,
nor desiring to

I follow my muse---
yet, incongruously, I
never leave my chair

Ugh! Back to School!

It’s the end of the first week back at school for thousands of students, from kindergarten to university. In recognition of their return, here’s an almost-but-not-quite-true tale from a long time ago, about me going back to school…and dreading the idea!

Today is the big day, the day when I have to go back to school.  The end of summer has come and gone…the time of year when news media publish articles aimed at all those mothers whose children are getting ready to go back. 

ALMOST THERE, MOM! or RELIEF IN SIGHT! are the headlines accompanying the stories, the point being that the world’s parents, fed up to the teeth with their children, must joyfully be anticipating the beginning of the new school year.

That’s certainly the case with my mother, who, it seems, can hardly wait to get me out of the house!

Back when I was in the primary grades, going back to school was an exciting time.  I remember going out with my mother to do some shopping during the week before school started.  Clothes were always on the list, but my mother generally looked after that aspect.  The purchases that interested me were things like coloured pencils and a new lunchbox, things that reassured me I was starting fresh, embarking upon what was sure to be my most successful year yet.  Hope sprang eternal.

At home with my new stuff, I’d spend considerable time organizing and planning.  I’d get rid of all the leftover junk from the previous year, print my name carefully on the new stuff, and decide what clothes I wanted to wear on the first day back.  By the Friday before the Labour Day weekend, I was ready!

In some ways, things haven’t changed much now that I’m older.  Last week, I helped my mother as she chose new clothes for me to wear, I got my hair cut, and I stocked up on school supplies.  But there is one big change now, compared to before, a huge change!  I’m no longer excited about going back anymore, not at all. 

My mother woke me this morning, yelling up the stairs.  “Time to get up!  First day of school!  Let’s go!”

I stayed in bed, trying to convince myself I was sick, but she finally came into my bedroom to get me going.

“Hurry up!” she scolded.  “Breakfast is almost ready.”

“I don’t wanta go back to school, Ma,” I whined.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, pulling back the covers.  “Everybody’s going back.”  She lay out the clothes I’d be wearing on the bed for me.

“Nobody likes me,” I whimpered.  “All the kids hate me!”

“Nobody hates you,” she said, pushing me down the hall to the bathroom.

“They do so!” I said.  “And none of their parents like me either!”

“How do you know that?  Most of their parents don’t even know you.”

“Yeah, but the ones who do think I’m a jerk!”

“I’m sure they don’t,” my mother insisted.

“Not only that,” I protested, “the teachers don’t like me either!”

“Don’t be silly!” she said, pulling the bathroom door closed after ushering me inside.  “Now get washed, get dressed, and get downstairs for breakfast!”

It continued when I got to the table.  Dawdling over my cereal, I said, “I hate school, Ma!  The work is too hard.  I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time.”

“That’s just silly,” my mother said.  “You’re very clever.  You just have to stick to it and everything will be fine.”

Pushing my unfinished cereal bowl away, I said, “I think I’m gonna be sick.  I don’t feel very good!”  I held my stomach to punctuate my claim.

“You’re not sick!” she said.  “You’re just a little nervous about the first day back, that’s all.  Once you get there, everything will be fine.  You’ll see.”

“It won’t be fine!” I whined.  “Nothing’s gonna go right, I just know it!  Please, Ma!  I don’t wanta go back to school!”

“You have to go!” my mother declared, a touch of steel creeping into her voice now.  “Everybody else is going, and you have to go, too!”

Why?” I cried.  “Why do I hafta go?”

“You know why,” she said.  “You’re the principal!”

And so here I am.  It’s gonna be awful!

Birth of the Beast

As a response to this week’s prompt from my Florida writers’ group, to write a story using the five senses, I’m posting a piece I hope will allow you to see, hear, smell—perhaps even taste and feel—the events portrayed.

The piece is the draft prologue to my next crime novel, my eighth—working title, After the Lake Caught Fire—which I expect to see published later this year (or early in 2022).

No one was there to witness the birthing of the beast.  Speculating afterwards, people said it was most likely caused by a strike from the surly skies overhead—a bolt of heat-lightning that ignited the oily, gummy crust floating on the lake’s surface.  But nobody knew for sure. 

The flames spread slowly across the water, hungrily devouring the layers of filthy grunge, sending a greasy black smoke into the sky to blend with the heavy overcast.  Later on, people figured the fire burned for most of the first day, all that night, and well into the following day before exhausting its run.

Had anyone been there that Saturday, the smell was the first thing they’d have noticed—an acrid, unpleasant odour, distinctly repellent, entirely hostile.  On that sticky, humid day, it saturated the moist air, cloying and pervasive, unmistakably out of place in the forest setting.

Had someone been there that night, they’d have seen greedy tongues of flame, nearly invisible in the daytime—a greenish-blue inferno flecked with orange, like a propane camp-stove turned low.  The fire lent a Dante-esque glow to the darkness, roiling and surging atop the lake like the awakening beast it was.  

The small kettle-lake, unnamed, had been devoid of life for years.  No fish swam in the depths of its half-a-square-kilometre bowl, their remains having long since mouldered on the bottom or rotted on shore.  No ducks, or geese, or iconic loons splashed down on its surface during their migratory travels.  No small animals came to drink from its water, or to hunt the frogs and crawfish that had once inhabited the shoreline.  The lake was dead beyond reclamation, a silent, toxic cesspool, the perfect breeding ground for the catastrophe it was spawning, a poisoned promise to the future.

By the following morning, Sunday, the beast had reached the sloping terrain of the eastern shore, an expanse of granite covered in stiff lichen, furry moss, and low, prickly scrub.  Dead leaves, twigs, and branches littered the rising slope, sere and brown in the summer heat.  Pockets of smoke appeared near the bottom of the grade, and gradually moved upward, tracing the path of the smouldering monster in the cracks and fissures of the rock.  By mid-afternoon, the first small flames sprang to life—not explosively, not aggressively, but languidly, as if the oppressive heat of the day was more than they could tolerate.  The abundance of dead, dry vegetation on the ground allowed the flames to spread, moving in every direction from the centre, climbing the slope, consuming everything in their path.

On the flatter shoreline areas—gravel-covered beaches, bare of vegetation, where no fire should have found purchase—the flames nevertheless spread haphazardly, as if drawing on some unseen source of fuel.  Black tendrils of smoke traced their route from the lake’s edge toward the forest, their odour the same as that arising from the water-borne gunk.

Late on Sunday afternoon, before the fire could spread uncontrollably, the rains came, one of those sudden, summer downpours, appearing almost out of nowhere, lasting perhaps an hour, leaving behind an azure, cloudless sky and setting sun.  For a while, the rainwater on the surface of the lake evaporated as soon as it landed, replacing the smoke with mists of steam, scarcely different in appearance.  But eventually, the rain’s sheer volume quenched the flames, already diminishing as a result of their relentless consumption of the oleaginous scum they’d been feeding on.

From the forest floor, rainwater rushed pell-mell down the slopes of granite to the lake, drowning the smouldering monster before it could reach the treeline, leaving large swathes of black soot across the pink-hued rock.  And the flames creeping across the gravel-laden flats were similarly quelled, with wispy threads of acrid smoke rising lazily from the chemical-soaked ground, pale tendrils striving futilely against the rain. 

On Monday morning, when the men came back in their growling trucks laden with more barrels from the factory—tailings sloshing in a chemical stew—they were startled by the scene that greeted them.  But the fire was already out, the greedy slurry-pits were waiting, and the bosses at the plant would have no tolerance for excuses.  After a few minutes of muted chatter, the men dumped their loads as usual, and headed back for more. 

Most of them, lifelong residents of the Northern Highlands district, understood what was happening.  But no one could afford to lose their job by being the one to sound the alarm and abort the nascent disaster.

And the bosses, who also knew and understood, did nothing.

The beast was born.