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On nasty surprises.

Published July 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been just about two months since I last posted.  I am ashamed to admit that I let life get in the way.  The school year got the best of me – a clear indication my priorities were shuffled and rearranged about a thousand times.  I thought I fell in love, but thinking about it only makes me feel small, sad, and stupid, so I’ve now come to the realization that it wasn’t love.  I have yet to determine what it was, but it’s over now, and I don’t think I’m a better person because of it.

But I have been writing.  I am three chapters into the new novel.  I have a short story to share with you all as part of my “weekly” writing prompts.  My contract with Martin Sisters Publishing will expire next year, so I have begun the search for a literary agent.

I am hoping to close on a home of my own at the end of this month.

There is good, and there has been bad, and in this exact moment, I find it difficult to describe exactly how I feel, but maybe that’s okay.  We’re all entitled to feel numb and completely apathetic now and again, aren’t we?  I think it’s a coping mechanism or, even worse, a defense mechanism of sorts.  I don’t know why I’m feeling so pensive or cynical.  Maybe I’m simply hormonal?  Maybe it has something to do with the heartache I alluded to?  Maybe it’s the dark direction I steered my short story in?  Maybe I simply spend too much time alone?  Whatever the reason, I apologize.  And I also sincerely hope you enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #15: “A mother discovers a feminine collection while cleaning her son’s bedroom.”

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            “What an idiot!  How could that not have sent up a red flag?” Kelly McCarthy asked no one in particular.  The question had to be rhetorical since she was sitting alone on the slightly worn – but still perfectly comfortable – couch in the living room of the home she shared with her small, loving family.  She was mindlessly eating some low fat, low calorie, low carb potato chips (but all the health benefits meant nothing when she was likely to eat the whole damn bag in one sitting) while watching her favorite true crime documentary channel.  Currently, the channel was airing some cleverly named show – with an alliterative title, most likely – about handsome boyfriends and husbands who were not who they said they were.  This lady had married this good-looking fella after only a few months and found herself bruised and abandoned and robbed.  Sympathy was hard to come by, however, because if this female had thought clearly and not been blinded by a strong jawline, she would have seen through the obvious fabrications and been alarmed by some universally troubling behavior.  These women were not like the sudden rash of young girls that were missing – some had been found but all who had been found were already dead – in a city farther north than the one she called home.  Those girls were too young to be anything other than naïve and innocent.  How could someone who had not even graduated high school know better, let alone really know anything about anything?  No, these women, these suckers, had no one but themselves to blame.  Kelly was shaking her head, feeling pity but mostly disbelief and borderline disdain, when the dryer’s buzzer sounded loudly throughout the one-story, ranch-style home.

            Reluctantly, Kelly peeled herself from the overstuffed cushions and shuffled her slipper-covered feet through the kitchen and into the cramped laundry room.  She listened to the textured bottom of the slippers scuff against the vinyl tiles that floored the kitchen, and she listened to the buzzing of the dryer now only a step away, but other than the low and constant humming of the television, there were no other sounds.  Kelly found herself home alone, as she usually did in the middle of the day throughout the week.  Her husband, Charlie, battled a sizeable commute to the northern part of the state and her son, Joey, was a sophomore at the high school, and though he was scheduled to come home early in the afternoons, around 2:00 PM, Joey never usually showed up until dinner time.  He was always busy with some kind of extracurricular activity and Kelly couldn’t be any prouder.  He was so popular and studious.  Over dinner, Joey always regaled his parents with stories of the humorous antics of juveniles and how Joey was truly an asset to the school community.  A smile formed on Kelly’s lips of her own accord as she thought of her son, her only child, her pride and joy.

            It was a load of his clothes that had just been dried and were now patiently waiting to be folded and placed back in the drawers, or hung in the closet.  Typically, Kelly did not do her son’s laundry – he was nearly sixteen years old – but she had felt particularly generous this idle, random day and for no reason that she would ever be able to articulate.  Later on, Kelly would wish she hadn’t felt so – she would even raise red-rimmed eyes to heaven and demand of whatever God resided beyond the clouds why He had blindsided her with such terror and tragedy.  But before that moment, everything was normal and just as it should be. 

            She shoveled the random assortment of shirts and pants and socks and underwear into an empty laundry basket and trudged down the long hallway to her son’s bedroom.  It was the last bedroom on the right and its door was marked by a single poster, perfectly centered.  The poster advertised a poetry festival in a metropolis near her husband’s work in the northern part of the state.  Joey was such an intelligent, well-mannered boy.  He wasn’t like all those other boys his age, who were loud and aggressive and obnoxious and obsessed with their penises.  He was quiet and patient and obedient and enjoyed females, but not to the point where it consumed him.  He was balanced and healthy and beautiful and whole.  Again, Kelly caught herself nearly beaming when thinking of her baby boy.  She balanced the laundry basket on her particularly bony hip and turned the doorknob.

            The door was locked.  That was odd.  Joey’s door was never locked.

            Kelly placed the laundry basket on the floor and ran her hand along the molding that ran along the top of the doorway.  She was waiting to feel cool metal beneath her fingertips; the key to her son’s room.  She found it and unlocked the door, and pushed it wide open so she could traverse through the doorway with the laundry basket.  Her slippers shushed against the plush carpet and she gladly tossed the laundry basket on the bed, careful not to upend it of its contents.  It bounced jovially once or twice before rocking itself right.  Kelly walked to the dresser directly opposite the meticulously made bed.  She had developed the tactical plan of putting away the socks and underwear first because that would be easiest – Joey just tossed them in the top drawer of the dresser.  The pants and shirts would be decidedly more difficult as Joey had a system in place that Kelly had yet to decode.  A giggle tumbled from her mouth; how funny for Joey to be so organized.  She wondered where in his lineage she could attribute the trait, as both her and Charlie were both hopelessly sloppy.

            When she pulled open the uppermost drawer, a sound she had not been expecting met her ears.  Kelly distinctly heard something substantial sliding forward with the movement of the drawer.  It wasn’t the soft whisper of fabric, but something heavier.  Kelly pulled the drawer out as far as it could go without making it tumble to floor.  She looked within and she found a rather extensive collection of jewelry.  There were necklaces and bracelets and long, dangling earrings that younger girls would wear – colorful, gaudy, attention-getting.  Icy apprehension flooded Kelly’s stomach like the waters would a sinking ship because Joey did not have a girlfriend – not one that he ever mentioned, anyway.  Besides, there were too many pieces for one girl and there was no consistency in taste or style.  Kelly was under the impression that the jewelry had belonged to many different girls with unique and wonderful personalities, just as varied as the necklaces and bracelets and earrings.  Why would Joey have such things hidden among his undergarments?  And why was his door locked?  And if he had a girlfriend, why didn’t she know anything about it?  Why would Joey be keeping secrets?

            Whoa – Kelly stopped herself.  She stepped back from the drawer and shook her head, but still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong.  Maybe it was all the reality crime television she had been ingesting lately.  That was all – she had simply seen too many shows about serial killers who were meticulous, guarded, and kept mementos of their poor, tortured victims, such as jewelry.  She brought a trembling hand to her mouth and slowly shook her head back and forth again.  Joey wouldn’t do anything wrong.  Joey wouldn’t harm a fly, not Joey, no, no, no.

            Her eyes slipped to the closet.  Snooping would only end in heartbreak and pain, as did it for all mothers who found more than they bargained for in the bedrooms of their children (pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, naked selfies, etc.).  But Kelly now needed to snoop for exoneration.  She needed to clear her son whom she had already condemned.  She moved to the closet door and slide the nearest door open.  It creaked unsteadily along the track, and Kelly’s eyes fell to the floor.  Joey’s shoes – so clean, so clean – were in neat and even rows.  Sneakers, boots, shoes for church; there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

            So what was the deal with the duffle bag thrown carelessly into the corner and out of sight?  Unless, of course, someone was looking for just such a suspicious detail as Kelly was.  Slowly, shaking, she dropped to her knees and reached into the dark recess of the closet.  She pulled the bag, scratching the vinyl with her nails and sending chills up and down her spine.  Breath moved in and out of its own volition, but it did not seem to be all that willing.  The necessary oxygen came in jerky spurts and Kelly feared she would hyperventilate and pass out.  What if Joey came home and found her like this?  What would he think?  What would she say?  Kelly inhaled, exhaled, and unzipped the bag.

            There were dark colored sweatpants with a dark colored sweatshirt, rope, gloves, and the light reflecting off of something metallic and sharp – a knife.  Kelly screamed and threw the bag from her.  She scrambled back against the bed and slumped into a seated position.  This didn’t make sense, couldn’t add up to what she was assuming.  No, those girls were missing from up north, from where Charlie worked.  Why would Joey ….

            Joey had taken an interest lately, hadn’t he?  Joey traveled up to work with his father whenever he could, whenever Charlie offered.  That wasn’t often enough, though.  Not to commit murder – surely not!  Joey would have to go up after school, take public transportation, and he couldn’t.  Well, Kelly supposed he could, but he wouldn’t.  After all, he had all those obligations which he never gave specific details about and which never culminated into something tangible, even something as simple as a telephone call from a club advisor or certificate of participation with the principal’s rubber stamp.

            What the hell was going on here?

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On connections.

Published January 6, 2014 by mandileighbean

I am a writer, in part, because I believe that life is all about making connections with other human beings. Love is what matters, in all its varying forms and intensities. Writing, for me at least, offers an opportunity to explore those connections and to invent such connections. When lives become entwined with others, it is a beautiful, brilliant, terrifying and almost surreal realization. We matter to others, and others matter to us. How can that relationship ever be ignored or dismissed? I don’t think it can, and I think a lot of my writing expresses that. That theme becomes a constant in my writings, and I apologize if it becomes redundant, but I think the importance of love bears repeating.

Enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #9: “An air force pilot is ordered to destroy a public building in a major metropolitan city.”

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Michael Ryan loved to fly. It was the only reason that he joined the air force and became a pilot. It hadn’t been so much about patriotism, or a fervid desire to destroy any enemy, or even the way ladies reacted to a young man in uniform. For Michael, it had always been about the sky. Riding high and knowing there were others looking up and wondering about whom you were and where you were headed was an amazing sort of ego trip. There was something completely self-indulgent and simultaneously totally freeing about being alone in the clouds with just your thoughts and instincts. Michael Ryan truly loved to fly. The opportunity to do so, coupled with the benefits of working for the government, made the career choice a no brainer.

He was flying high when word came over the radio that he was to destroy the Geysler building. Momentarily, Michael had been shocked. The peace and privacy of the cockpit had caused him to temporarily forget the absolute madness and chaos ensuing below, back on the ground. Enemy forces had surprisingly invaded from the shores. Ships had landed and once boots were on the ground, blood ran in the streets of so-called important shore towns. It had been an impressive, coordinated, and alarmingly secretive attack that, from Michael’s point of view, was remarkably successful. Smoke billowed from burning buildings and flames shot toward the sky. Michael was able to observe the certain carnage occurring below with a cool detachment because of his position; he was literally looking down on everyone else. His mind had eventually drifted to other things – whether or not those things were more important was fodder for a different story, for a different day – but the order over the radio brought him back into the present moment and current conditions.

Apparently, the government had ample reason to believe that the Geysler building was a base of operations for enemy sympathizers. Being that the building offered numerous amenities and was a safe haven for the enemy where there should be nothing of the sort, the government decided it needed to be neutralized and removed. Made sense as far as Michael could tell, and he radioed back in the affirmative, that he was on his way and would destroy the Geysler building.

A few minutes later, Michael had positioned himself appropriately and was resting his finger on the trigger, waiting for approval to fire. Through the windshield, he could see into the windows of the building. He was fairly close and was beginning to wonder if he was too close and if he should alter his position – after all, he was still green around the gills and hadn’t destroyed anything outside of practice targets and the like – when something caught his eye. In a window to the bottom left of his vision, was a young woman. She had blonde hair pulled back in an effortless ponytail and a full face. She was wearing a green sweater and on her lap, she held a toddler. The toddler had blonde hair as well, and that shared genetic trait made Michael assume the two were related, even though he was too far away to discern their facial features in any kind of conclusive analysis. As Michael watched, the woman smiled as the toddler stretched out a pudgy hand with splayed fingers and placed it, in a gesture that could only be described as lovingly, upon the woman’s swollen-looking cheek.

It was a touching image, poignant though brief, and it gave Michael pause. Were they the enemy? How could a child and his mother be the enemy of anyone? What sort of tactical maneuvers could those two possibly be planning? What other sort of children and family were in the building? For the first time in his career, Michael was putting real thought behind he was doing.

As he watched and thought, the woman turned to the window and for just a second, Michael thought he knew who she was. The woman bore an uncanny resemblance to someone Michael had known in college; a beautiful and brilliant girl who had lived on the same floor as him junior year. He remembered that she liked to paint and usually had it all over her hands in all sorts of shades. Either because she didn’t know or didn’t care about her filthy, multi-colored hands, she would constantly use them to pull her hair back, only to let it fall freely about her face. She was beautiful in a careless, dangerous way. Michael had called her Bohemia before he learned her real name at a party, because of her predilection to wear printed tunics over yoga pants or leggings. As a matter of fact, he had announced loudly that Bohemia was alive and well once he had noticed her presence at the party. She had smirked – she never really smiled, like smiling was thoughtless and too easy of an expression to offer to the world – and walked over to challenge him and ask him what he thought he knew about bohemia.

They talked for a while about all sorts of things, things Michael had not discussed with anyone since, and ended up in her dorm room, where they had passionate and amazing sex on a gross futon Bohemia had saved from the curb. In the morning, she had made him tea in a cool, antique-looking teapot and after some awkward pleasantries, they parted ways. He saw her occasionally in dining halls and in the quad in the warmer weather, but the most they would exchange was a small nod or tiny wave; nothing more. What if that was Bohemia in that window? What if that was her son? What if, after college, she had fallen in love with a beautiful man and had a traditional wedding and started a family? What if that family was in that building? How could he blow that to smithereens?

Michael did not think he could eliminate Bohemia. As a matter of fact, he had decided that he wanted to find Bohemia and see how she was, to find out what had happened to her. That had been a real connection Michael had made, no matter how short lived, and as he hovered above life exploding and imploding beneath him, he felt depressed. He felt no connection. There had been no tether composed of love or brotherhood or anything so noble to keep him grounded, and so he had found isolation and alienation – not solace – away from the Earth in the air. He was missing so much.

He didn’t listen for the approval. He didn’t wait for an order. He turned around. Michael Ryan was heading home.

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On a sunrise that never comes.

Published September 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay, so the first week of school got the better of me.  I celebrated completing the very first day with students by indulging in dinner.  Karma intervened, however, and the meal wasn’t even that good.  Usually I do cartwheels for shrimp parmesan with pasta from this local pizzeria and restaurant, but it was only okay this time around.  It serves me right, I guess, for trying to break my diet.  OH!  The Giants lost and I was devastated.  It made me cranky on Thursday, but on Thursday, I stuck to my diet.  I was not able to write or read.  I had school work to do and I had to drive my dad twenty minutes to retrieve his medication for PTSD that a coworker had brought home with him.  My dad’s foot was crushed beneath a 300 pound utility pole at work.  He might need surgery and he’s likely to be out four to six weeks … returning after the union goes on strike.  It was all terribly convenient – ha ha! – until Dad’s foreman called yesterday and announced that the strike, which seemed imminent, was now NOT going to happen.  All’s well that ends well, eh?

Friday, I relaxed after work with some colleagues at a local watering hole.  I meant to go to the freshmen football game and I meant to get some serious grading done, but I did neither.  Exhaustion got the better of me and I just crashed.  I think I was in for the night by something like 9:30PM, which is absurd.  Although, I did get exciting news – my gallery pages were done!  I was able to glimpse what my book will actually look like when its printed, and it is amazing!  My wonderful, beautiful and glorious editor, Melissa Newman, knew exactly what I wanted to say and knew exactly what I was trying to create.  She amplified the writing and made it successful, more complex, and more entertaining.  I am still so excited!  I am so anxious to physically hold my novel in my hands.  I am more than ready and willing and able to hit the streets to get the word out, drive profits up and make a name for myself in the literary scene.  My mom worries I’m letting my imagination run wild, but so what?  I truly believe that this is the beginning of something special.  And like a close friend quoted to me on one of my darker days, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.”

Saturday was Mikey’s birthday, and it was a really nice time.  I love him and I am proud of him.  I think it is so cool that I get to see him every day at school and be a part of his life in another integral way.  I doubt he’d say the same, but what does he know?  He just turned fourteen.

In contrast to Friday, I was SUPER productive today.  I finished reviewing my gallery pages late last night and sent them on their way first thing this morning.  I graded.  I made copies.  I sent important e-mails.  I organized.  I was, essentially, SUPER efficient.  I hope I can keep that up for more than just the first week of school though.  If I know myself like I think I do, then I will definitely have to work at it.

Hopefully tomorrow’s blog won’t be all about work.  I don’t want to be one of those people who only ever talks about work.  When I was with my colleagues Friday afternoon, the majority of the conversation was about school and blah, blah, blah.  I understand that is a commonality for us and it is logical to discuss what we all know, but I want to be so much more than that.  I don’t want to just be a teacher.  I want to be a writer.  I want to talk about both.  Does that make me pretentious?  I worry that it does.

PROMPT: A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.

PIECE: Big Chris and Little Chris, as father and son were respectively known, were sitting beside one another on a decidedly uncomfortable yet entirely appropriate, considering the situation, log.  It was bumpy – just as Little Chris had expected; he knew logs were bumpy because he had been called a “bump on a log” more times than he could count by more people than he cared to count, Big Chris included.  Thinking of his other nickname made Little Chris cranky, as did the bumpy log, as did the fact that Big Chris had rudely awakened him well before the crack of dawn.  Torn from his warm, cozy sleeping bag, Little Chris was now being forced to sit and stare into darkness.  It was pointless.  It was dumb.  Little Chris would rather be sleeping.  He thought this sucked.

Big Chris, on the other hand, was sitting on the edge of his portion of the log, nearly breathless.  He had been remarkably proud of his idea to watch the sunrise with his one and only son.  Big Chris thought it would be a real moment, the kind of moment he had never shared with his own father, the kind of moment Little Chris would recollect in the twilight of his years fondly.  Their campsite was perfect for it; they’d be able to see the whole process and the view would not be broken by trees or craggy cliffs.  It would be majestic – a word Big Chris had never had the opportunity to employ until now.  His smile was big and cheesy, and his pearly whites were the only thing Little Chris could make out in the near total darkness.

It was 6:30AM – just two more minutes until the sun began to rise.  Unable to control it, Big Chris let loose with a booming laugh and an affectionate pat upon his son’s back.  Little Chris only shivered and crossed his arms over his chest.  He was already over it.

It was 6:40AM – and it was still completely dark.  Big Chris was puzzled and did his best to rationalize the sun’s notable absence.  From beside him, Little Chris asked, “What time is it supposed to start?  I mean, shouldn’t it have started by now?”  Little Chris voiced his questions in a small whisper.  He did not know why he was whispering.

It was 7:00AM.  Both father and son sat silent and motionless, trying to control their breathing and desperately searching their minds for a cause.  If they knew why the sun was refusing to shine, then maybe they could figure out how to make it shine.

It was 9:00AM.  Little Chris had retreated back inside the tent.  He didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want his father to see him cry.  He was ten years old, and that was too old to be blubbering, to be holding onto Dad around his waist, and to be wiping a snotty, stupid nose against Dad’s tee-shirt.  Also, the only plan he had for making the sun come up was to sleep.  Maybe if everyone went back to sleep and accepted that it was still nighttime, the sun would be there when they woke up, like it always had been and like it always should be.  Little Chris had known that getting up so early was a bad idea; maybe the sun was angry that him and his dad had tried to outsmart it.  Maybe the sun didn’t like anyone watching it rise over the landscape.  Little Chris knew these ideas were childish, but they gave him some comfort as he lay down and cried inside the tent.

Big Chris was on his cell phone.  He was trying to talk to his wife, to calm her down some because she had risen to find that the sun had not.  Hysterically, she was trying to relay reports and expert hypotheses but she was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe, so she couldn’t really talk, and service was spotty at best.  Soon, the call was lost.  It was unnaturally dark, and father and son were alone.

It was 1:00PM.  Little Chris had woken from his “nap,” only to find that his plan had failed, as he knew it would.  He now was cradled in his father’s lap, still crying and shaking.  Big Chris was doing his best to rock his son back and forth, shushing him and trying to soothe him, trying to convince him of the impossible – that nothing was wrong.  Big Chris wanted to cry, wanted to just sit and cry, but he couldn’t do that.  He had to be strong.  He had to keep his son safe.  He was trying to come up with a plan.  Was it worth it to grab some flashlights and try to get back to the truck?  Should they bring the tent and all the gear?

Big Chris didn’t know.  He just didn’t know.

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