Tag Archives: hope

Grass on Venus

North Korea launched a long-range missile past the island of Okinawa today, ostensibly to launch a satellite, and quite probably as part of their ongoing efforts to develop a better ballistic missile program in conjunction with weapons of mass destruction.

My thoughts on this are a little rambly… to include the question of whether ‘rambly’ is a word.

I stood at the park with my 5 year old around noon, watching picture perfect clouds stacked in different layers coasting across the blue sky. He climbed on all the playthings at the park, and then I gave him a ride home on my back, listening to him laugh with delight.

 

The Dude on a recent trip to the park
 
I recently played a bunch of Fallout 4, exploring a ravaged Boston battered by radiation storms and post-apocalyptic cruelty. Coupled with today’s news, when I looked at those clouds it struck me that it would not take a whole lot to bring the beauty around us crashing down. Some combination of insane or fearless world leaders, political brinksmanship, and powerful weapons–that could do the trick. 

My idealism wants to rail and shout. What sort of madmen would threaten something so pure and peaceful as a 5 year old climbing and playing with abandon on a bright sunny day?

My cynicism knows the horrors wrought by human nature, and my pragmatism understands that I and my family aren’t immune to or protected from events that can shake the world.

For a few minutes, while the Internet connection held, I played a video game for a while. Destiny is a sci-fi, first-person shooter with open areas on several planets in our solar system. My character stood on Venus, killing evil robots and aliens. My 10 year old son recognized the level and watched for a moment, then asked, “Wait a minute! Why is there grass on Venus? It’s super hot. That isn’t right!” 

And that led to a conversation about the far-future, sci-fi dream / hope of terraforming other worlds to make them habitable for humankind. I laughed at the idea, but remembered a recent article suggesting the sort of “colony” we actually could put on Venus (in theory) in the distant future: a suspended cloud city that would rest not too high in the upper atmosphere as to freeze and not too low as to suffer the inhospitable heat.

But with all that comes the realization that this will almost assuredly never happen in our lifetimes. 

So we talked about what it means for humanity to reach for the stars. “Basically, one meteor strike, one nuclear war, one significant enough calamity, and everything ‘human’ ceases to exist. We have this one planet, where every single human has ever lived and, for the near future, will ever live. We don’t want all of that swept away in an instant. People want to spread that risk out a bit.”

Questions of faith arise in our home. Is that like the Tower of Babel? Is that an expression of human arrogance or pride, making more of ourselves than we ought, or not being content with what we have? And how do we reconcile that desire with what the Bible says about the end of the world? 

Oddly enough, my justifiable fear of what we know could likely happen to end the world aligns pretty well with the Bible’s promise of an end to this world–coupled with wars, famines, diseases, and calamities. And that raises challenging questions. 

But I also find great hope–both in what my faith has taught me to expect if/when I see those promises come to pass, and in what the best and noblest expressions of human capacity show us is possible when we put our minds and resources toward fantastic, even ‘impossible’ goals. We’re coming to understand so much about the universe around us. We live in a world surrounded by knowledge and technological miracles compared to just a few decades ago, and that trend is on track to continue for the foreseeable future.

Depending, of course, on the paths we choose.

May our faith in something greater than ourselves and our hope for a better future guide us to always take the path that leads to a park at noon on a sunny day, and maybe even grass on Venus. 

Echoes part 1

WattPad is running a contest / writing challenge for 2015. The goal is to write 10,000 words of a story within 30 days–originally within the month of August, but they’ve extended the deadline to September 30th to allow for those who may have started late. 

After NaNoWriMo last year, 10K seems like nothing!

I’ve posted the first chapter of my Echoes story to the site. I plan to have some fun exploring the world inside Hope’s head, and the interplay between Forsephore and her soon-to-be-revealed nemesis. I’ve already got the climactic confrontation sorted out in my head, more or less… but I feel there’s a lot of winding paths along the way that I can explore.

Care to join me? Check out Echoes

Here’s a glimpse of Hope and the host of Echoes that exist within her.

   

Echoes of the Past

Have you ever stopped and considered the “what might have been” options in your life? Those doors once open that now seem so unlikely? Those dreams and lofty goals that too easily find themselves set aside by the mundane demands of the daily grind?

“I want to run a marathon.”

“I plan to travel to Ireland, or Australia, or go backpacking through Tibet.”

“I could write a memoir.”

“I want to be an astronaut.”

I saw a link to a short story contest on my Stateside writers’ group Facebook page, and the urge to participate churned in my brain at once. And the more I thought about potential stories, the more my mind homed in on the concept of our deferred dreams and primary motivations. What are the principle visions of ourselves or beliefs about ourselves that govern so much of what we accept as possible or achievable?

We all have these grand plans and aspirations, but life sometimes buries them deep down beneath the crushing weight of bills, daily chores, menial but tedious work, and mindless entertainment to distract us from the numbing effects of our busy lives. Worse yet, there are “facts” we believe about ourselves that keep us from even attempting to achieve. “I can’t write.” “I’ll never have the time to spend on that.” “No one wants to see what I can create.”

For example, in my teenage years I distinctly remember a comment from my big brother telling me I couldn’t sing well. To be fair, my voice was changing, and everyone has bad days, so maybe his judgment that day was fair. Maybe it was an offhand comment or a big brother picking on little brother moment. He probably wouldn’t remember saying it.

That defined my ability in my head for several years. Rather than sing, I held onto the thought, the belief even, that I really ought not subject others to the sound. I could play piano really well; I should stick with my strengths.

It took a friend’s compliments and encouragement to get me to even try singing a duet with him in public. It took the praise of many members of the congregation to convince me I should keep doing it, and it took some time for me to really believe I could sing capably into a microphone where others would suffer the sound of my voice.

All because of an off-hand comment.

No judgment on my brother, whom I love dearly. I merely bring this up as an example of how easily certain parts of our personality can get crushed by the voices around us.

So my short story is going to be about these Echoes, the “could have beens” and “maybe one days” that all exist within the same jumble of emotions as “this is the best my life will get” and “who am I kidding, I could never…”

What happens to these Echoes when dreams die or when doors of opportunity close? What can motivate a person to change which voices hold sway in their mind?

When one of the Echoes starts to fade into nothingness, she finds a last chance at reshaping her Prime, the mild-mannered cubicle dweller to whom all the Echoes belong. To do it, this Echo has to avoid the judgmental ire of the current Alpha in charge, who is determined to maintain the status quo while enlisting the aid of other weakened dreams and forgotten hopes. Perhaps if enough of them come true, the balance of power can shift. But if not, then all those dreams might be lost forever.

Sound fun? If so, help me out… and maybe you’ll appear as one of the “Echoes” in our cubicle dweller’s head.

How? It’s easy to do, but maybe a little challenging to consider:

Leave a comment with a few of those deferred dreams or “I wish I had” hopes that you think might be clinging desperately to the thought of “maybe one day” in the mind of the cubicle dweller. These could be silly ideas you think a frazzled woman trying to avoid becoming a crazy cat lady might hang on to. Or on a more personal level, these could be your own thoughts of what could have been, wishes you never got the chance to fulfill.

I’d love your input.

Also here’s Shia reminding you to not let your dreams be dreams.

Modest Interest

It’s time for a Saturday Storyline. Unfortunately, I misplaced the initial handwritten draft of the next part of my Worldmender storyline. So… here’s a Word of the Day post, based on “vigorish,” which was not at all what I thought at a glance.

The Fourth Street Diner in Berkeley… probably NOT the setting for this story!

Jonas Budyenko’s hands quivered as he dried the last glass and set it on the Fourth Street Diner’s bar. It rattled on the plastic until Jonas let go.

“Vanessa, who’s on the phone?” Please god anybody but Vitoly.

She didn’t even look him in the eye as she walked by. “AT&T, boss. Courtesy call. They’re shutting off your service again. Twice this month. New record.”

Jonas wiped his brow with the dishtowel. One more bill to juggle. I need to get a hold of Sarah at college. But I can’t pay the bill until I talk to Vitoly or Dom.

Dom hadn’t been around to collect in a couple weeks. He’ll come soon. He’s a ‘regular.’

Jonas rehearsed his plan for the fourth time. It ain’t much, Dom, but I got three thousand together this week, and with school startin up again, Mister Vitoly knows I’m gonna be good for the rest real quick. I’m gonna pay, promise.

The bell above the front door jingled and Jonas startled. Two college girls took the first booth and Vanessa brought them menus. Three weeks now, where’s Dom been?

Jonas caught sight of Ted, the Greek who owned the corner store. Has a spring in his step today. What’s he smiling about? Vitoly’s been on his back for months.

“Two triple chocolate,” Vanessa mumbled as she walked by.

He grabbed the scoop and two chilled glasses. Come to think of it, all the shopkeeps have been up lately. I’da thought Vitoly was dead the way they’re acting. But I saw Dom at the pier the other day, picking up monthly payments from the Romanian with the fish market.

Jonas set the pair of frosty glasses on the bar for Vanessa when the bell jingled again. His heart froze colder than the shakes in his hands. He’s here.

A wall of muscle with slicked back grey hair, Dom stepped in and tucked Ray-Bans into his leather jacket. Too warm for that coat today, unless you’re hiding holsters. Sweat dripped under Jonas’s arms. Oh Lord I’m not that far behind, am I?

Ice blue eyes fixed on Jonas, and Dom’s lips parted, showing white teeth in an awkward smile. Jonas attempted to return the gesture, but his clenched jaw made it difficult. Dom moved to the bar and took a stool. Even seated, his shadow loomed over the counter.

“What’ll it be, Dom?” Jonas managed to say.

The mountain grumbled. “Hmmm… you know, I never stopped by for casual. Always business,” he said with a shrug. Believe me. I know.

“What’s your best? I’ll try one. Special occasion and all.”

Jonas stood, staring at the big man. What are you playing at? Trying to make it look like you’re not here to threaten me? Waiting until there are no witnesses?

“Do you got a best?” If Dom noticed the hesitation, he said nothing. “Ehh, I guess you can’t really call one good. Makes the others sound bad, right?”

He turned. “Hey, ‘Nessa! What’s your favorite?”

“Red Velvet Cake.”

Dom turned back to Jonas. “Bit pricey, ain’t it? I don’t got money to throw around.”

There it is. Jonas opened his mouth to speak, ready even to beg. But his throat felt full of ash and dust. Tell him! No one’s listening.Tell him like you practiced. “I’ll get the money.”

“But I’ll try that.” He glanced at the waitress again. “Nice girl. Reminds me of yours… what’sername, Sarah, right?”

The ice cream scoop clinked against the glass as Jonas worked. Oh god oh god, that’s your play? I need to call her. But, the phone-

Dom continued, chatting like an old friend. “She’s gotta be in high school by now, right?”

“She’s in college, Dom. Third year.” Please god let her be okay. Vitoly isn’t that cruel.

“Oh. Jeez, where’d the time go, right?”

Dom laughed, and Jonas cringed. His stomach churned. Oh god, I’m gonna vomit right here, all over the bar, all over Dom. Oh god, he’s gonna hurt Sarah, and the three grand isn’t gonna be enough, and he’ll come for me and take me out back and–

“I’ve got three thousand right now in the safe, more next week, please don’t hurt her,” he blurted in one breath.

Dom shrank back, hands raised in protest. “Jonas, what the–”

“She’s all I got, Dom!”

“Whoa, Jonas, what are you–you mean, you haven’t heard?”

Jonas leaned on the diner, arms shaking.

“Old Man Gino died a couple weeks ago, right?” Dom explained. “So he had a stash he been saving up for years I guess. Got no kids, wife died three years back, so he left it to you guys. All you Fourth Street shopkeeps that played chess with him? He left money to pay off everything you owed Mister Vitoly.”

“He did what?”

“Yeah, paid it all. The whole she-bang. Your loan, plus Mister Vitoly’s modest interest rate.”

Jonas struggled to remain standing. Gone? It’s all gone?

“You’re not here for a payment.”

“Nope.”

“You’re not threatening my daughter.”

Dom laughed. “Jonas, I would’ve been by three weeks ago, but I thought you heard. And your phone was out.”

“Oh my god, oh my god, I gotta call Sarah.”

“Tell her I said hi.”

Jonas ignored the comment as he headed for the door. Vanessa can handle the place for a minute. Ted will let me borrow his cell.

The bell almost broke loose as Jonas burst out of the diner to catch up to his friend. He shook off decades of age and anxiety and started a shuffling jog. There he is… gotta let Sarah know.

He never saw the speeding car.

Jonas awoke to the steady beep of the IV pump and the too-clean scent of a sterile hospital room. He felt numb on his left side, but he smiled when he heard Sarah’s voice.

“Dad, you’re awake?” She rushed to take his hand, careful to avoid the IV tubes.

“Yeah,” he whispered, and offered a weak smile.

She hugged him. “What were you doing running into the street?”

“Oh sweetie, I was so excited… wanted to tell you the news.”

He looked into her bright eyes, and his heart filled with joy. “You wouldn’t believe–”

Then he caught sight of Dom.

“What’s he doing here?”

Her face fell. “Dad, you had several broken bones,” she explained. “A few surgeries. We… my job doesn’t pay well enough for those kinds of bills.”

No.

“So I talked to Dom, and he talked to Mister Vitoly. Everything’s taken care of. I got a small loan, with modest interest.” She squeezed his shoulder. “Now, what were you saying?”

He felt the old crushing weight settle back down on his shoulders, and he tried to fake a smile.

“Nothing.”

Lodestar

Polaris

Here’s a “Word of the Day” exercise, using the word “Lodestar.”

For a refresher, “lodestar” means:

1. Something that serves as a guide or on which the attention is fixed

2. A star that shows the way

3. Polaris (a.k.a. the North Star)

Obviously, what that word needs is a zombie apocalypse.

 

Lodestar

“Mama, I thought you said we were there.”

I pat Bitty’s shoulder while scanning the horizon. The sun is setting behind naked trees. The sky is glowing orange and red. My fingers clench around the shotgun pump.

Nothing on the road but our wagon. Nothing in the trees. No moans on the wind. We still got a chance.

Jonathan, my eldest, pipes up. “This is Lodestar, ain’t it?”  O.B. gets excited.

“Daddy’s getting that all sorted, Ji. You boys hush now. Watch your sis.”

Bitty fell out of the wagon yesterday and split her lip. Nothing serious, but her crying attracted attention. Dad only had seventeen shells left, plus a few boxes of nine-mil. Can’t be wasting it ’til we know for sure.

Knockers whinnies and stamps his feet, eager to be on the move. His ears twitch at a sound nearby.

I hear the voices now and then. The men on the wall don’t sound friendly. Dad isn’t happy neither.

“Supplies, at least,” he says. “That’s all we’re asking. Give us a chance to buy or trade.”

Can’t hear the response, but I hear the laughter, and it’s enough.

I pat Bitty again, I think to comfort me more than her. She sucks her thumb and looks around.

It isn’t even the husks I’m worried about. Can’t trust people anymore neither. You meet someone out in the open, you best keep eyes on target and hand on steel, because you know they’re looking for a clear shot at your back.

I see the bodies again. I try not to, but they keep floating to the top of my mind every time I stop watching the land. Found what looked like a family of six today. We told Bitty and O.B. to close their eyes… told them it was the husks. We told Ji too, but he’s too sharp to believe that.

I’m sure he saw the tracks. Boot prints. Probably saw the bullet wounds and clean-cut flesh. Husks got claws and teeth and that’s it.

Ji’s smart, no way around it. At least he had the good sense not to talk about it in front of the other two.

Everyone’s got needs, I know. I just wish folk could be folk again, with welcoming smiles and warmth in their eyes. Lord said “the love of many will grow cold.” But I don’t think no one expected it to be this bad.

I try not to think about the sweet smell of barbecue that comes wafting our way on the breeze. This town might eat well tonight.

Well… not ‘well’ maybe, but they’ll eat their fill for a change.

The silence catches me off guard. I panic for a moment until I hear Dad plead with the gate-men. He’s carrying, and they know it. They won’t pick a fight with him.

Probably.

Ain’t seen any husks in four days, at least. Even then it was only a handful on the horizon. Nothing creeps me out more than the slow pace as we roll by in silence, eyes glued, watching them for a reaction. That time, they just lumbered around out there, near a farmhouse. Think I heard a few pigs squeal.

Guess even husks can’t resist bacon.

“What’s so funny, Ma?”

I hear Dad getting angry at the men. “Sorry, Ji. Right now, not a damn thing.”

I already know what’s next. I hear him stomping our way, cursing under his breath.

He hops up onto the driver’s seat and takes the reins from Ji. “Idiots. ‘You got nothing we need.’ Pish! How about extra hands to work the land? Extra weapons to hold the wall at night?”

Ji’s shoulders sag. “This ain’t Lodestar, is it, Dad?”

Dad sighs. Sounds like Jesus giving up the ghost. My heart breaks, and I hear him sniff.

No, no tears. Can’t have that in front of the kids.

“I’m sorry, hon,” I blurt out. “I thought I might’ve read the map wrong.”

He doesn’t move, but I hear him take a deep breath.

“This ain’t Lodestar, boys,” I explain. “We’re almost there, but it’s still a few days north. I thought we made better distance than we did these past few, and I got messed up.”

Ji squints at me, but O.B. lights up.

“Think they’ll have rabbits there,” he asks, “like back home? I wanna get a big fluffy grey one, name him Mister Carrots!”

Bitty laughs, and I manage a smile.

“I bet they just might, O.B. Let’s get moving and we’ll know soon.”

The wind picks up. The sky is all deep violet and maroon. We’re further north than we ever expected to be. Well into Canada by now, or what used to be Canada back when names and borders meant something.

“Tell me ’bout Lowstar!” Bitty squeaks.

Dad inhales deep, ready to put the burden back on his shoulders. Then he turns, red-eyed but grinning.

“It’s going to be the best, Bitty.”

He speaks in a hushed tone. We need to give the kids hope. We need to avoid attracting husks too.

He’s trying.

“It’s where everyone’s headed… all the good folk. They got walls a foot thick and taller than trees, to keep the husks out. They got fresh water, ’cause there’s a stream running right through the town. They even have some greenhouses to grow fruit.”

“Mmmmm!”

“You remember strawberries, Bits? I bet they got big red strawberries. Maybe even a raspberry patch like back home.”

They keep talking kind of quiet, and I reminisce. Home. Seems like ages ago that we pulled out of Alabama. Summer seemed a good time to travel, and all the talk said Lodestar was in the West Virginia hills. Then we got there, and they said it was on the shore of Lake Erie. Then we got there, and got a new map.

Not that we needed a map, really.

The sky above is almost all black.

Bitty whispers, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…”

And there it is. The North Star, pointing the way to hope.

Dad is putting on a strong face, and Elizabeth is happy, so the boys are content even in the midst of all this. They huddle in blankets and watch in awe as the sky fills with stars.

I wish I felt the same sense of wonder, but I can’t shake one thought:

We’re running out of “north” soon.