The Frozen Rat’s Foot

So, this morning, I went for a run. And I was listening to David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. When I listened to it, I had this story idea pop into my head. Well, it wasn’t exactly this story but it started with Major Tom showing up on Halloween, and this teenage girl not knowing how to handle it. I checked Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge and picked a title randomly, and the rest of the story just fell together. Haunting, not for the feint of heart, and probably a little eerie, but I had a great time writing it! Enjoy.

Major Tom had popped into their lives on Halloween. Delores remembered it, because in the weeks prior to his existence, she’d been listening to David Bowie on repeat. Delores thought it could only be a coincidence—his name. Delores’ mother didn’t believe in coincidences though. She said everything happened for a reason.

Jack and Sunny had been trick-or-treating, and Delores sat by the front door giving out candy. Too old to partake in the annual candy-haul, Delores resigned herself to the fact that getting older stunk. The kids groaned when she handed out Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie pops, the cheap candy, making her life even harder.

Major Tom, she didn’t know his name at first, knocked on the door. He had his arm draped casually over a fairy princess and threw a killer smile Delores’ way.

“Howdy,” he said with a wink.

“Hi,” the timid word barely escaped her mouth.

Major Tom had a way of making his presence known.

Delores could feel her mother behind her and smell her Obsession perfume. Momma bit her lip, stuck her hips out, and tried to look coy. Her flirty red hair that come from a box bounced as she sashayed all the way to the door, leaned down toward the Fairy Princess, and deposited a tootsie roll into her bag. Major Tom caught an eyeful of cleavage from Momma’s low-cut Gap shirt.

“I’m Hilda.” My mom hated her name. She put out a hand showing off bright red nails.

“People call me Major Tom,” he said, extending his hand toward her.

The Fairy Princess and I stared at each other, unaware our lives were about to change forever.

Major Tom and The Fairy Princess aka Candace aka Candy-for-short moved in with us two days before Christmas. Snow filled every crevice of the world, and the heat had been out for a week. Momma had bought food but couldn’t pay the heating bill. Major Tom would be our savior, she said. Only he wasn’t.

When they moved in Major Tom insisted on giving Candy-for-short her own room. Delores could not believe it.

“That’s not fair. I’m the oldest,” she said rolling her eyes all the way to heaven.

“You’ll do what he says. It’s about time we had a man to take charge in this house,” Momma said.

Delores stomped up the stairs. She kicked the bed frame, but only managed to hurt her foot. Hot tears streamed down her acne-pocked face. She wiped them away. Stupid Major Tom and Candy-for-short came in and had ruined everything in her life. Delores threw a shoe at her boom box. She turned the tape over—the one her father had given her before he died. She played Ashes to Ashes, “My mother said, to get things done you’d better not mess with Major Tom.” She wanted to barf or scream or both.

Instead she whispered so low that only the dust bunnies could hear, “I hate you, Major Tom. Something evil lurks behind those twinkling eyes.”

She threw her clothes in a box, gingerly untapped the David Bowie posters from the wall, unmade the bed and walked across the room to Sunny’s room. Sunny’s room had bright yellow walls. My Little Ponies littered the floor. When Delores walked in, Sunny bounced up to her.

“Want to play Barbies?”

“I’m much too old for Barbies, Sunny. Go away.”

Sunny hung her head and dejectedly continued to play.

Candy-for-short was given everything she ever asked for. Sunny and Delores often felt overlooked. Jack lived at the neighbors’ house and sometimes Delores didn’t think their mother even noticed he was missing. Major Tom’s eyes began to look eviler and eviler as dark circles formed underneath them. Momma started sleeping in every day. Major Tom and Momma fought and screamed at one another. Sunny and Delores barricaded themselves in their room, and Delores would play the David Bowie album Scary Monsters on repeat. She wondered how a scary monster had showed up in her house so suddenly and changed everything with such ease.

Soon it became apparent Major Tom had lost his job. He sat at home in the green easy chair, staring at the fuzz on the T.V., or he and Momma locked themselves up in their room for days doing God-knows-what. Food became scarce. Delores tiptoed around the house, afraid to make the hardwoods creak. Major Tom’s wrath had reached new proportions. Jack never came home. Delores wondered if the neighbors had secretly adopted him.

It all came to a head on Fat Tuesday.

Candy-for-short and Sunny sat at the kitchen table doing their homework. Their sallow skin seemed to sink into the darkness of the room. Their gaunt cheekbones haunted Delores. What they all needed was a good meal. Major Tom and Momma had locked the door to their room, and no one had heard a peep from them for at least a day.

“Go upstairs and play,” Delores directed the little girls.

Candy-for-short had been slinking around in the last week. Major Tom had been less and less present in all their lives.

“I just wish he would hug me still,” she had confided to Delores the day before. Delores had been secretly relieved when Major Tom grew quiet. His yelling had terrified her. Delores’ dad had been quiet, soft-spoken, and kind. Meek as a mouse her Momma said. Major Tom was the opposite: loud, boisterous, and down-right scary a lot of the time. Plus, he had taken away Delores’ mother, her ally in the house. Even though Delores knew her mother was less-than-perfect beforehand, Major Tom had transformed her into a nightmarish entity who Delores didn’t think she really knew.

Delores opened up the freezer. She didn’t know how it had gotten in there. She pulled it out and set it on the counter. She drummed her fingers on the counter trying to figure out the best way to cook it. Roasted, no? Boiled, ooh gross—all she could think about were her Momma’s boiled Brussels sprouts that made her gag. Fried. She settled on fried. Everything tasted good fried.

She pulled out the deep fryer and got to work, seasoning it, and breading it so it could be fried. She found a jar of green beans and nuked them in the microwave and made some white rice with a pat of butter to go with it. The smell of food cooking brought everyone to the kitchen. Momma and Major Tom stepped out of the bedroom, eyes blood-shot and faces white as ghosts. The girls bounded down the stairs, and even Jack showed up at the back door, eager to take his role as part of the family if it entailed a home cooked meal.

Delores had cut it up and served it on the rosebud plates her grandmother had passed down to them. She put a little scoop of rice, a serving of green beans, and the fried meat on the plate, arranging it with care for everyone at the table, the way her old-Momma used to do. Everyone dug in, eating like they had never eaten before.

Suddenly Major Tom crunched down on something hard.

He pulled it out of his mouth and studied it. His bloodshot eyes took on a quizzical look. Delores had only eaten her green beans and rice. She’d left the meat untouched. She stared at him.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“A frozen rat’s foot,” Delores said.

Forks clattered against the plates. Her family’s faces took on a look for simultaneous horror. Jack made a retching noise, and Momma ran to the bathroom.

Delores chuckled, shoveled her remaining food in her mouth, then walked out the front door intent on never going back.

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In Control

Today’s blog post is a Flash Fiction piece for Terrible Minds again. The assignment is to pick lyrics from one of your favorite songs and use those words as your theme. The song is In Control by Greensky Bluegrass, and the video is after the story. Enjoy!

The Theme:

Though I am not without weakness I will define what lies ahead; I’m not out of control    -Greensky Bluegrass from their song In Control

In Control — 1123 words

What are you going to do when you get out?

His words echoed in my head. Not this, I wanted to respond to his ghost. I didn’t know how much I’d miss Peter. I hadn’t thought the ache would drive me to the needle. I closed my eyes as the liquid seeped into my veins. I could see Peter’s face, his delicate eyelashes that looked too feminine against his scarred face. His bright blue eyes beacons of light which seemed to beckon me back to him.

What are you doing?

I could hear his words, as if he were speaking to me, echoing in my head before the sudden blackness hit me. Too much or not enough, my last thought.

When I woke up I wondered if sheer blackness was what we had to look forward to when we died. I still had a faint hope in God, but why would he give me so much pain? I tried to move but realized my arms were restrained. They took it as a suicide attempt instead of just falling off the wagon.

I opened my eyes and looked to my left.

Peter, my rock, sat in the sunshine next to the window. My eyes struggled against the too bright light to make sense of him there. I had not seen him in months. He looked good, his scar faded slightly, his eyes twinkled, as he leaned forward setting his elbows on his knees. His face emanated kindness and concern.

“Astrid.”

“I’m sorry.” I mouthed the words. My throat felt dry as if I had walked through the desert.

Peter stood up. He looked larger than life. He pushed a button over my bed. A nurse came in wearing a white cap.

“Water.” She nodded at Peter and left.

The wise man built his house upon the rock. The children’s song went through my mind as I gazed at my wise man, the rock, piedra, Peter.

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

I couldn’t talk. My throat felt like sandpaper. The nurse returned with the water. Peter propped a pillow behind my back and grabbed my elbow, helping me up. He held the cup to my lips and I swallowed the water in one gulp.

“Don’t gulp it down. You’re already weak. You don’t want to throw up.”

“I don’t remember anything.” My voice was scratchy but there.

“Your mom found you. Called me here. It was touch and go at first. But they pulled you through. You were lucky. She let herself in two minutes or so after you overdosed.”

“I guess she’s sending me back.”

“You know it’s a voluntary program. Next time, you get the desire to use will you call me?”

I nodded.

“You know, you’re in control of your life. You’re the one who says whether you live another day clean. Whether you decide to use again. It’s hard. Trust me, I know. I make that decision every day.”

Peter brought his hand up to his face, touching the scar etched against his skin—a constant reminder of his weakness.

“Tell me the story.”

Peter grimaced. “I’ve told this story hundreds of time—to all of my sponsors—but it never gets easier. It’s a reminder to me that weakness has the power to destroy, but can be overcome. Your weakness does not define you. Through my tragedy, I took control of my life. I defined the way I wanted to live.”

He sighed releasing the pain into the story.

“It was Matthew’s eighth birthday. You know, the name Matthew means ‘gift of God,’ and he was. My wife and I couldn’t have kids. Or at least we didn’t think we could. We tried and tried, and when we gave up, Matthew came along. He didn’t seem like other children. He came into this world with his eyes open so wide. He always seemed precocious, like he knew something we didn’t. That day, I had to drive him to Chuck-E-Cheese for his birthday party. I wanted one hit. One hit before I left. I’d done it before, taken him places while I was high. It wasn’t like I was drunk. I felt like I had control when I did meth. Felt like nothing could go wrong. ”

He sighed again. He sat on the edge of my bed, smoothing down the wrinkles on the white hospital sheets and looking over my head.

“But of course, that was just the drug. It made me feel happy–invincible. Or I thought it did. And then we were in a wreck. And Matthew, Matthew who was only eight but acted older, Matthew was gone.” Tears sat in Peter’s eyes.

“I went to jail for 18 months for manslaughter. Driving under the influence. But the worst punishment was losing Matthew. Meg left me. I’d hit rock bottom. And then in prison, I met my sponsor. He took me under his wings. He taught me to forgive myself and to take control of my life again. He taught me to fight against my weakness, my addiction, every day. He told me nothing could bring Matthew back, but that I, like everyone else, deserved a second chance. This scar—” Peter touched his face, “reminds me of Matthew every day, but it also reminds me of the decision I made to change my life and take control. And I know, Astrid, this is only a minor setback for you. I know you can do it. If I can do it after losing everything, you can do it too.”

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” I said, finishing his story for him.

“You have the power inside you to change and to take control. It will be hard to conquer your addiction, but if I can do it anyone can.” Peter said.

He took my hand in his, warmth against cold stone, and squeezed it. In that moment, I felt my blood start pumping again. I felt alive, like I hadn’t felt in months. I felt willingness and control seep back into my veins, passed from Peter to me. Strength, like no other.

I knew he was right. I had to try and believe in myself, to take control of my life, and to conquer the evil that had invaded my life and tried to wrestle control away from me. I had to take it back. I had to become a rock like Peter.

2 Timothy 1:7 <em>For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.</em>

 

 

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Memories of Ed

This morning, I put in a Violent Femmes CD on the way to work. The only one I own. It is the self-titled album. I hadn’t listened to this album in years. It reminds me of Ed who I knew from church and then high school. Then he was simply gone.

When I was a kid I went to Holy Comforter, an Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s still there. There were a ton of kids and one of those kids was a guy named Ed Pradot. He became my friend as we moved from children to the awkward pre-teen years and started participating in the youth program called EYC (Episcopal Young Churchpeople). We spent time at lock-ins together, playing BINGO in the church cafeteria, and stumbled through our developmental and adolescent years together.

I knew Ed pretty much my whole life. He had fluffy blonde hair, and a huge magnanimous personality. He was a grade below me in school, but that didn’t affect our friendship. One summer, our EYC group went down to Orange Beach for the weekend. Ed and I were in the back of a car with a girl named Deidra, and he put in the Violent Femmes CD. We sang the songs all the way down to Orange Beach (church appropriateness = questionable). That night, we decided we’d stay up all night: Ed, Deidra, and I. And we made it too. Only, we were too tired to go to the beach and slept through all of the next day. I think we made it down to the beach for about thirty minutes before sundown the following night. But we didn’t think the time had been wasted. We were young, and we’d stayed up through the whole night so we could talk, bond, and learn how to grow up and become adults.

Later, when I was in 11th grade, I transferred to the Catholic school in town. Ed went there, and we ended up in some classes together. Then we started carpooling. I picked him up every morning and we talked all the way to school.We often stopped at a Spectrum gas station on the Eastern Boulevard to get candy and junk for our day. We were such good friends, but nothing more. I never had thoughts of him as more than a friend, but I’ll never know whether he wanted more. It wasn’t something we discussed, but it wasn’t something I questioned either.

On one of these morning trips, Ed did not seem himself. I asked him about his history test, and he told me he didn’t have one. He stated he had a science test, but I knew that wasn’t true because we had discussed it the night before on our way home. I had also told him how in Health class we learned that when someone has a seizure you don’t put anything in their mouth. Instead you wait it out, and then sweep out their mouth afterwards to make sure they have a clear airway.

That morning, I had made it to the intersection of McGehee Rd and Troy Hwy and was about to turn onto Eastern Blvd, when he started having a seizure. I thought he was messing with me.

“Oh, c’mon Ed. I know you’re faking it, trying to see what I’m going to do.” I patted him, trying to get him to stop, but he continued seizing. His head hit up against the window of my Supra Celica. I learned at this particular moment in my life that I’m horrible in emergencies. I was at a stop light, and I beeped my horn trying to get people to move. I rolled down my windows and yelled that my friend was having a seizure. No one moved. And finally, after what seemed like an eternity the light changed. Ed was seizing still—I think. I drove like a bat out of hell to the Spectrum station. I left the car running, made sure that Ed was okay, and ran into the store.

Inside, I said, “My friend is having a seizure in the car. Call 911.” Six shocked faces turned to look at me, and six shocked people dropped their morning snacks and ran out to help me. Ed had stopped seizing by then, and the attendant called 911. A nice man straightened him up in the seat and swept his mouth. He was bleeding, because he’d bit his tongue. A nice woman held me, comforted me and told me Ed was going to be alright. I called Ed’s mom, but she didn’t arrive until after the ambulance had already loaded Ed into the back and taken off. The ambulance driver told me where they were taking him, and I relayed the information to his mother.

She said, “He’s never had a seizure before.”

I just shook, barely able to speak. Then I got in my car and drove to school. I attempted to take my Religion test, but Mrs. Toner my religion teacher walked me to the office, called my mom and sent me home. I was so shaken up.

Ed recovered. He told me the last thing he remembered was getting in the car, and then it was a blank, like he didn’t even exist until he woke up in the hospital feeling so tired with his tongue completely bitten through. He didn’t even remember the conversation we had that morning in the car.

Unfortunately, when I went to college Ed and I lost touch. And the summer before I went back for my sophomore year I thought about him. I called his house, but his little brother told me he was staying with his dad that summer. When I asked for the number, the little brother told me he didn’t have it.

A few months later, sitting in my dorm room at American University, I received a call from my childhood friend Hillary. She was sobbing. “Ed got hit by a car, Lauren. He was crossing the road. He’s dead.”

I was shocked. Because he had such a big personality that it didn’t seem possible his life could be snuffed out just like that. And I didn’t get to say goodbye. I wanted to see him that summer before my sophomore year and talk to him, pal around, and just be Lauren and Ed, but it never happened. My parents were in London when I received the call, and so I didn’t have the money to fly home from Washington D.C. to Alabama. I called my brother and sobbed on the phone to him. I felt life was unfair. I’d lost two friends at young ages by this time, and I just didn’t understand how that could happen. It took me a long time to wrap my head around losing Ed. More than anything, I wish I had insisted on getting his phone number from his brother and having one last conversation with him before he left this world.

Today in the car, listening to the Violent Femmes all the memories of Ed popped up making him feel alive again. I could see his kind eyes, his funny, fluffy hair, and the smile he always wore. I remembered all the nights we’d hung out together at EYC. I remember how loving and caring he was, and I’ll always treasure those moments I had with him, even though they were too few.

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Satisfied

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Many of you know, that thanks to my sister Kelsey, I am currently obsessed with the musical Hamilton. (If you click that link you will be taken to a YouTube of the Hamilton song, Satisfied). 

I’ve been listening to this musical for about a month. I wake up singing it in the morning. I’ve always liked musicals, but I wouldn’t say I’m a connoisseur of musical theater. I simply listen to music and musicals I like.

In the song Satisfied, Angelica is making a toast to her sister, Eliza, on her marriage to Alexander Hamilton. Only Angelica is still in love with Hamilton, but gave him up for many reasons. And the scene zooms back to when she met him at a Winter’s Ball, and they talked about never been satisfied. I know this song is about a romantic situation, but it can be applied to other situations in life too.

Satisfaction. Is anyone ever 100% satisfied? This song was in my mind, because I think I have a tendency not to be satisfied. For a long time, I looked for the little negative things in my life. I didn’t look at the bigger picture. I walked around with a smile on my face, but behind the smile lay a world unraveling. I felt wholly and sadly unsatisfied. I wanted what I didn’t have, and I didn’t want what I had. Finding writing again helped me curb the unsettled unsatisfactory feeling within myself.

In the song, Hamilton tells her she seems like a woman who has never been satisfied. And then he compares her to himself and says that he has never been and will never be satisfied either.

Hamilton was wildly successful, you know, besides being shot and killed by Burr. He wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, shaped the US founding government, was the first State Treasurer, and started the banking industry (because of him I have a job). But he never felt satisfied (or the creative license would have you think that). And here’s a thought: the lack of satisfaction is a driving force in success. Why do people rise up from the poor? Because they’re not satisfied with what they have? Why do people change jobs? Because they’re not satisfied. Why do people become politicians? Because they’re not satisfied. Why do people write? Because they’re not satisfied.

Think about it this way. If a writer wrote a book and was completely satisfied with it, would they ever write another one? Part of what keeps people driven is the lack of satisfaction, either with their current situation or with the world around them. Not feeling satisfied is an unsettling feeling, but is also a key to success.

Why drives you? Are you satisfied?

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Carry On

When I wake up in the morning, I grab a cup of coffee, sit down, turn on Pandora, and I blog, write, or work on yearbook (almost done!). This morning, Pandora played the same song for me two times in a row. Carry On by Fun.. It reminded me how you can put CDs on repeat and play them over and over again, reveling in the words that seem so relevant in your life but are sung by a total stranger. How many of you have done that when you’re having a bad day (or a bad breakup)?

Carry On is such a great song. A few years ago, I listened to this song in my darkest days, and it helped me to do just that: carry on. Walk away from the past with open arms toward the future. The future is full of infinite possibilities, and if we didn’t carry on then we’d never have those experiences.

I sat down unsure of what I wanted to blog about this morning. I have been writing, working on a story that took me away from my two previous works in progress. Now that yearbook is almost complete, I’m going to put more effort into blogging more and also into finishing up edits on Little Birdhouses, writing more, and I’m going to start querying again. (Get ready for lots of blog posts about rejection) When I wrote last week, for the first time in awhile, I felt relief wash over me. And it reminded me of the reason I write. I write because I have to. I write because it takes all of my restless energy and turns it into something amazing and beautiful. And because maybe, like I did with Fun.’s song, someone will relate to something I’ve written. The gift of words.

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