An Unexpected Bloom (Part 2)



Kaitlin huffed, noting the time. She hated being late but couldn’t go to work covered in droppings. After watching safely indoors until the ambulance arrived, she raced upstairs to shower and change her scrubs.

Already unnerved by what had just happened, Kaitlin nearly fainted seeing her reflection in the bathroom mirror. 

“Oh, my God!”

A vicious scratch ran down one side of her face. Hastily tending the wound with topical antiseptic and a prayer, Kaitlin vowed to call Ms. Agnes’s family as soon as possible. 

“The poor woman’s possessed. Lord, help us.”

Running to her car felt like the bravest thing the young woman had ever done. Forgetting to buckle up, Kaitlin revved the engine and tore out onto the road with a screech. Her hands shook as she called Ms. Agnes’s daughter. She nearly screamed as the call went to voicemail.

“Ah…hi, Emily. This is Kaitlin Jones. I’m sorry to say your mother’s had a fall, and I suddenly realize I have no idea what facility they took her to. But, something strange …ah…please call me back as soon as possible.”

Kaitlin prayed for safety and forgiveness as she sped to work. Her mind spun, replaying the bizarre circumstances surrounding Ms. Agnes’s accident, eventually concluding something diabolical lurked at her neighbor’s house. 

With the parking lot unusually full, she struggled to find a space in the furthest row away. Grabbing her bag, she threw the door open, hitting the car aside hers. 

“Just what I need.”

Slamming her door, Kaitlin looked to see who owned the car. A Support Farmers, Buy Local bumper sticker made the woman’s blood boil. 

“Great! Michelle’s working! Could things get any worse? Ooh, if Jane’s called out again and switched shifts with Michelle, she’ll get a piece of my mind!”

Once on the floor, Kaitlin apologized for being late and turned her attention to taking over the shift. Any earlier trace of fear or apprehension vanished as she assumed a cold, calculating, professional demeanor. Management applauded her efficiency and impossibly high standards. But, her staff learned quickly to avoid igniting her infamous temper, known to reduce even seasoned employees to tears. 

“Who’s Michelle covering for?” she asked. 

“Jane called out. Some emergency with her dog.” The day charge CNA replied. 

“Not even close to a fair trade,” Kaitlin said. 

“If you ask me, you’re too tough on that girl. A little kindness goes a long way.”

“I have been. Besides, if little miss klutzy’s daddy wasn’t chief hospitalist, she’d have gotten the boot already.”

“Careful, Kaitlin. You’re management’s darling, but hurt one of their own, and you’ll regret it.”

“Everyone says I play too hard, but I’m fair.”

“Gosh, look at the time. Got to go. My kid needs a ride home from practice. Have a good night.”

A loud clamor echoed from down the hall. The women peered around the corner to see Michelle splayed out on the floor, surrounded by a mess of food from a tray for one of the residents.

“I’ll try. But I can’t promise Michelle will make it through the night.”


Michelle wrestled with a pit in her stomach as she slowly climbed the stairs to the second floor of Bassett Nursing Home. She didn’t like her job, hating how it made her feel utterly incompetent. After an extra month of training, Michelle struggled with even the simplest tasks. She longed to quit but feared the repercussions. This week began horribly and had only gotten worse. Her immediate supervisor, Ms. Jones, made it clear the time to shape up or ship out had come. 

Michelle couldn’t help but notice an edge to Ms. Jones’s voice when she presented herself for duty. A new resident had moved in yesterday, upsetting the orderly routine her boss thrived on. An ominous feeling seized Michelle hearing her shift assignment. 

“Sink or swim, Michelle. This is your last chance. Prove me wrong. Do you understand?” Ms. Jones smiled. 

“Yes, ma’am.” 

Barring a miracle, she’d be fired by the end of tonight. Michelle wanted to cry but refused to in front of Ms. Jones. Despite her humiliating ineptitude as a CNA, she hadn’t given her supervisor the satisfaction of seeing her break. 

“Come along; I’ll introduce you.”

Michelle walked onto the floor and followed meekly as Ms. Jones led her down the hall to the furthest room on the left. A tower of smudged, crumbled boxes had been piled next to the door. 

“I want these dealt with today.”

“What are they?”

Ms. Jones rolled her eyes. 

“Plants.”

A quick rap on the door, and Ms. Jones barged in without waiting for a reply. 

“Good afternoon, Ms. Agnes.”

“What’s good about it?” an elderly voice groused. 

Michelle watched Ms. Jones’s body language change as she forced a laugh. She had never seen her boss act this way. Did this patient actually intimidate her supervisor? Michelle moved to get a clear view of this rare beast. 

“Oh, goodness me, Ms. Agnes! I can’t thank you enough for finally agreeing to remove that horrible necklace!” Ms. Jones cried happily. 

“I should think so! When she thought I was asleep, I caught one of yer little minions trying to take it from me.” The old woman said. 

Michelle stared in wonder as a frail, wrinkly old woman with a pile of unruly steel grey hair atop her head held Ms. Jones captive in a withering look.

“Really? You must have been dreaming.”

“No, I was not.”

“Well, as a Christian, I appreciate not having to look at it.”

The old woman cackled. 

“You know the problem with people like you, Kaitlin?” 

“Whatever do you mean, Ms. Agnes?”

“You’re too narrow-minded. Jesus, don’t care a lick what I wear. With you, everything’s either Christian or not. The world doesn’t work like that, Kaitlin. I’ll have you know I’m mighty close to Jesus in my own way. And he tells me he ain’t got no time for yer gate-keeping foolishness.”

Ms. Jones’s mouth hung open, her clenched hands trembling. Michelle braced herself for a tirade. But instead, her boss turned and walked out the door. 

“And who are you?” 

“I… I’m supposed to…Ms. Jones asked me to… I’m your….”

“Yer name, girl. What’s yer name?”

“Michelle.”

The old woman tilted her head as if listening to something before grunting. 

“You going to preach at me or try to steal my things?”

“No. No, I would never.”

“Good.”

“Ms. Jones told me to help you settle in. She said to start with the boxes. Unless you need something else?”

“Well, I’ve been waiting forever to use the toilet. Help me up. Then get the boxes. Not dignified to wet oneself.”

Michelle rushed to the old woman’s bedside. She struggled to lower the side rail.

“What’s the matter? Don’t you know how to work the bed?”

“Yes. Well, I should. Just a minute.”

“Dear, I can’t wait any longer.”

After shaking the bed several times, Michelle managed to lower the railing. 

“Aren’t you going to help me up? I busted my leg.”

“Oh, yes.”

Michelle tried several ways to support the old woman before using the wheelchair. It took even longer to haul the woman onto the toilet.

“Now, put me back to my bed before I catch a cold.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

More confident reversing the process, Michelle relaxed, daring to enjoy the small victory. She felt a smile forming until the old woman hollered. Michelle jerked the wheelchair back.

“Careful, girl! This ain’t a bumper car!” 

“Sorry! My depth perception’s horrible!”

“Don’t rush and watch my leg.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Disaster struck again as the foot of the bed started folding up, surprising Michelle as she fussed with the pillows. 

“No, no! That’s no good at all, girl!”

“I’m sorry! Controls were on the floor, and I must have stepped on it.”

Frantically readjusting the bed, Michelle brought everything level again and slid the railing back in place with an audible sigh.

“Michelle.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m old, so forgive me for saying, but you’re awful at this. Look at you. You’re sweating like a pig.”

Michelle burst into tears. 

“I know. I know. I’m sorry, ma’am. I do try, but I’m all thumbs with nursing stuff.”

The old woman clucked her tongue and shook her head. 

“Then why are you here, honey?”

“It’s my parents, my whole family, really. Everyone’s a doctor, nurse, or works in medicine somehow. We even have Uncle Stan, who’s a pharmacist.”

“Oh, honey.”

“All my cousins, my brother…and then there’s me. I’m trying, but I’m just awful at this.”

“Do you want to be a CNA?”

“What?”

“What do you want to be?”

“I don’t understand…a CNA. I don’t think I’m smart enough to do anything else. I could never be a nurse or a….”

“Shush, girl! Smarts don’t have anything to do with it. You need to figure out what’s in yer guts.”

Michelle shook her head, frowning. 

“I don’t….”

“Course you do. What puts a zip in yer step?”

“But, daddy says….”

 “To hell with yer daddy and ma! It’s yer life, honey. What’re you passionate about?”

Michelle laughed, swiping tears away. 

“Ma says if I had my way, I’d be barefoot, covered in dirt all day in the garden.”

“Got a green thumb, girl?”

“I’d say so.” Michelle giggled. 

The old woman’s eyes grew bright.

“Hazard a guess at what’s in ’em boxes out there?”

“Ms. Jones said plants.”

“Some real beauties from my yard.”

“Really?”

The woman laughed wickedly. 

“Bitched and cried ‘poor me’ until my daughter Emily agreed to dig ’em up.”

“Wow.”

“There’s one over there.”

Michelle noticed a potted plant and some garden tools on the window sill for the first time. 

“Bluebells! They’re beautiful!”

“Should have seen ’em when Emily pulled ’em out of the box. My daughter’s knowledgeable. I taught her the best I could, but she’s a city girl. Damn near killed those bluebells! Can only imagine the state of the others.”

“But, look at them now. I can practically hear them sing. They’re quite content.”

“Would you help me get the others settled?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am. I’d love that.”

“Call me, Ms. Agnes.”

Michelle got to work hauling boxes in, squealing like a kid on Christmas morning as she opened them. Agnes marveled to see the transformation in Michelle. The young woman handled each potted plant expertly, knowing which needed extra attention. 

“I told Emily to bring extra pots and a bag of soil. Did she?”

“Yep.”

“Shady here most of the day. Wood lily and corydalis should do well.”

“Oh, Agnes. Woodland phlox!”

Michelle surveyed everything thoughtfully. 

“Can I split a few to combine in this big pot? The wood lily and bluebells would look lovely together. There are ferns outside. I can add a small one with some rocks….”

“I love it. Let’s do it.” Agnes said. 

“Ms. Jones will question my going outside, but she did tell me to take care of the plants first.” 

“Don’t tell. Sneak out. It will only take a bit of time. Leave Ms. Jones to me.”

The women giggled mischievously. 

“Can I use your hand rake and trowel?”

“Of course, unless you want to use yer hands.” Agnes teased. 

“Wouldn’t hesitate at home, but it’s a nursing home. People will frown at the dirt under my nails. 

“I always say, eat a peck of dirt before you die.”

“Be right back.” 

Michelle stopped in the doorway, tilting her head as if straining to hear something. She shook the hand rake. 

“You hear that, Ms. Agnes?”

“Hmm?”

“That rattle. Sounds like a pebble or some gravel inside the handle.”

Michelle turned and jiggled it closer to her ear. 

“Yeah. Something’s in there jangling about. A bell? Like the one my cat has on his collar.” Michelle said.

She waved it around again. 

“Definitely, sounds like a bell. Hear it?” Michelle asked.

“I can. But you’re not supposed to.”

Confused, Michelle tried to read the expression on the old woman’s face. 

“Why do you say that?”

“Look inside,” Agnes said. 

Michelle flipped the tool over. 

“The bottom screws off?”

“Yes.”

“What’s inside? Did you put a bell in there?”

“Look inside.”

Michelle twisted the end of the handle and pulled it off. A marble threaded on a leather cord tumbled into her hand. Holding it to the light, she saw a pattern marking it. 

“This is a fairy stone. I forgot the name of this one, but it’s rare. People usually find the cross-shaped ones.”

“It’s called a Maltese cross. Quite rare.”

“Is this the necklace Ms. Jones mentioned?”

“Yes.”

“It’s stunning…in a natural kind of way. Why does she want you to take it off?”

“Ms. Jones’s afraid of its magic.”

Michelle snorted but stopped abruptly, seeing Agnes was serious.

“That’s just superstition and stuff.”

“Is it?”

“Well…yes.”

“Put it on.”

“What?”

“Do you have an imagination, girl?”

“Yeah? But, what’s that got to do with anything?”

“Humor an old woman. Please put my necklace on.”

“Why?”

“Because you heard the bell.”

“I don’t understand. Are you feeling ok, Ms. Agnes? Should I fetch a nurse?”

“No, no. Don’t do that. Just try the necklace on. I want to give it to you. That’s all. Don’t you like it?”

“Well, yes. But, I can’t take your necklace….”

“Go ahead, just try it on. It’s mine. I can give it to whoever I want to. None of my kids ever appreciated it.”

“Ok.”

Michelle slipped the leather cord over her head. 

“There. How’s it look?”

The old woman smiled with a sigh, turning her head as if to address someone. 

“Lovely. Don’t you agree, Gideon?”

“Yes, Agnes. Perfect. Michelle’s just perfect!” 

“Oh! Oh! Look at that! I mean…him! Ms. Agnes, please tell me you can see too!”

“Yes, girl. This is Gideon.”

“Ah…hello?”

“Hello! I’m so happy! Agnes has been searching for someone like you!”

An Unexpected Bloom (Part 1)

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Agnes’s daughter waved goodbye, slowly backing her new BMW down the gravel drive. Its shiny tires crackled and popped, kicking up a dusty haze. Emily hadn’t stayed long, and Agnes hadn’t expected her to. The old woman knew neither could tolerate anything longer than an overnight together.

Agnes had grown fiercely independent with all but one of her children far from home. Her friends and neighbors felt sorry for her. Yet, after devoting most of her life to caring for her siblings, a husband, and seven children, Agnes preferred it this way. She kept her nose out of others’ business and expected everyone to stay out of hers. Meddling invariably spawned trouble, she thought. 

“Ooh, the gall! Who does she think she is?” Agnes groused. 

“Your daughter.” 

“Don’t give her the right to barge in here, telling me what to do. Ooh, I could scream! I don’t need that ding-bat next door keeping an eye on me. I’ve worked hard cultivating a wall of rude silence, hoping to keep her out. Now, she’ll be here evangelizing and waving church bulletins in my face! 

“She’s worried about you.”

“Kaitlin Jones? Nah! She’s just a nosy neighbor. I tell you, she’s on to us, Gideon. She must have seen something.”

“Not her.”

“Oh, you mean Emily? Ha! She’s worried her brothers and sister will blame her if crazy ol’ ma drops dead unattended. Suppose being the oldest, she feels it’s her duty. But there’s a right respectful way of helping, and then there’s bossy! Besides, I’m not alone. Though none of ’em believes me. Too much of their daddy in ’em. Loved him dearly, but not one lick of imagination in that man.”

“Agnes, you do grow frail.”

“Shut yer trap. What do you know of frailty?”

“I observe it.”

“Oh, shush, Gideon! Who’s side are you on?”

“Yours, Agnes.”

“Well, nothing wrong with withering and dying unless there’s more work to be done and no one to pass it on to. That’s my problem.”

“Pity none of them show any interest.”

“Bah! It’s these times, all these computers and gadgets steer ’em away from nature.”

“The forest went without before. It will do so again if need be. You push yourself needlessly.”

“There’s time. Maybe one of the great-grandchildren.”

“Hope springs eternal.”

Agnes threw her hands up, indicating the time for talk had ended, and turned with a grunt to survey a kaleidoscopic spread of primroses. A satisfied smile stretched across her face.

“Delightful. Little beauties really do thrive amongst the cedars, don’t they?”

“And, as promised, a wider array of colors.”

“Hmm…and I figured they were just angling for top billing closer to my side door.”

“They’re prone to vanity,” Gideon whispered. 

“Well, I’ll reward ’em with some pickle juice.”

Agnes ambled toward her backyard, lips pursed in determination. She never surrendered to the pain before noon. 

“Shame you can’t work yer magic on these here bones. Arthritis is a bitch.”

“Agnes, you know I’m not that kind of fairy.”

“So you’ve said.”

Agnes reached for a rusty chair that bounced and wobbled as she sat.

“Moment’s rest won’t hurt.”

Agnes scanned her yard, making mental notes. 

“Forget-Me-Nots could use a pep talk; they’re becoming tattered. But, Gideon, the wood lilies and bluebells are really taking off. Never feels like spring until the bluebells pop.”

“Shh. The Helebores!”

“Ah, they’re plum tuckered out now. See, their color is all but gone. They sure did well this year.”

“Don’t go calling them winter flowers again. You scandalized the whole yard last time.” Gideon chided. 

“Hmm? Oh…everyone got over it eventually. What do you think needs doing first?”

“Bloodroot’s spreading close to the lawn again.”

“Yes, and with Emily’s daughter expecting any day now, the last thing I need is poisonous flowers in the grass.”

“It’s decided then. We’ll work on coaxing the bloodroot to yield ground. It will surely take all morning and afternoon. Ornery vegetation.”


The following day Agnes ached from yesterday’s battle with the bloodroot. But she went to work anyways. But, after hauling a ladder out to investigate a window box with failing sea thrift and candytuft, she conceded her body needed a day off. 

“Another cup of coffee and lazing out here in the sun sounds good.” 

“What about the sea thrift? It looks water-logged.”

“Shouldn’t be. Lots of holes for drainage and full sun. The other box is fine. See.”

“I’ll go take a look if you can’t.”

“Thank you, Gideon.”

Agnes sat on a stone bench amongst a bed of rock cress, alyssum, and creeping phlox. She closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of the rising sun. The hum of honey bees amongst the surrounding blossoms threatened to lull her to sleep. She let herself drift off. 

“AGNES?!”

The old woman started awake to find Kaitlin Jones inches from her face.

“Aargh!” Agnes yelped.

“Praise Almighty! I thought you were dead!” Kaitlin said.

“Dead!? Can’t an old woman rest unmolested in her own yard?!”

“I’m just doing what your family asked me to.”

“Spy and suss out a good reason to put me away, you mean.”

“How you talk, Ms. Agnes. I’m here to help a neighbor in need.”

Agnes harrumphed. 

“I’m not as frail as I look.”

“No, shame in aging, Ms. Agnes. Happens to everyone. I enjoy helping the elderly. Did you know I’m a lead CNA at Bassett Nursing Home?”

“How marvelous for you.”

As irritated as Agnes felt, she laughed, seeing Gideon dance upon Kaitlin’s nose. 

“Want me to round up some wasps?” he asked.

Agnes shook her head. 

“Are you ok, Ms. Agnes?” Kaitlin asked. 

“I’m fine, thank you. I don’t know yer arrangement with Emily, but consider it canceled. I don’t need no help.”

Kaitlin took a step back, putting her hands on her hips. 

“I disagree, and I told your daughter as much.”

Agnes attempted to rise up and chase the woman off, but her knees betrayed her. 

“Look, Ms. Agnes. I’m no snoop, but….”

“Oh, that’s rich! You don’t fool me. I know you eavesdrop on me.”

“Well, someone has to,” Kaitlin frowned knowingly before loudly whispering, “I hear you talking to invisible people.”

Despite the pain, Agnes hauled herself to glare directly into the young woman’s eyes. 

“Nothing wrong with talking to yourself. It’s a mark of genius!”

Kaitlin shuddered, crossing herself. 

“It’s not natural, Ms. Agnes. Are you dabbling in the occult?”

“What?!”

“Look at your yard. It’s not natural.”

“Because I’ve got a green thumb?”

“This is more than good gardening. What about your pagan statutes and altar?”

“Those are garden gnomes!”

“And your amulet?”

Agnes clutched her Maltese fairy stone necklace protectively. The woman merely guessed, Agnes told herself. 

“My pastor gave a sermon recently on the legends surrounding the state park. Did you know godless people from around the world come to Fairy Stone Park to find stones like yours? Supposed to let you see fairies and whatnot. Work of the devil, I say.”

“It’s a rare geological specimen. Nothing else to it. Like it or not, these parts are one of the few places to find one. I wear it as a token of local pride.” Agnes lied. 

“That’s it. I’m going to get more than wasps.” Gideon said. 

“No, stop,” Agnes said. 

“Stop what?” Kaitlin asked. 

“I meant…now stop all this foolishness. If you wanted to tire out an old woman, then you’ve succeeded, Ms. Jones. I haven’t the strength at the moment to tend my garden. I think a nap is in order.”

Agnes pushed her way past her neighbor. 

“I’m sorry, Ms. Agnes. Let me help.”

“No, thank you.”

“Perhaps, you’d like to come to church with me this Sunday?”

“No, I would not.”

“I’ll check in on you later if you don’t mind.”

“You aren’t very bright, are you, Ms. Jones. I’m trying to tell you off.”

“But, I promised your daughter….”

“That’s none of my business. You do what you need to appease yer conscience, and I’ll mind my own. Good day, Ms. Jones.”

“What’s the ladder for? Surely, you don’t mean to climb at your age!”

Agnes turned to sneer at her neighbor. 

“Goodbye, Ms. Jones.”


A luxurious nap restored Agnes’s resolve to tackle the window box. Gideon had discovered standing water inside, meaning something clogged the drain holes.

“How are you going to clear the blockage?” Gideon asked.

Agnes brandished a couple tools garnered from her garage. Laying aside a plastic bucket, a trowel, and a hand rake, she clasped hold of the ladder with both hands and a weed puller clenched in her mouth.

“Be careful, Agnes.”

Mumbling something snarky, she climbed the ladder. Rung by rung, she proceeded slowly until she could reach the three holes on the underside of the box. Leveraging the weed puller in one hand, she probed a hole.

You should wait and have someone take it down.

“By the time I can get someone, I’ll have lost the sea thrift. Look at it. Awful.”

Agnes pierced the closest drain hole, only to be disappointed by the release of a trickle of water.

“You were right, Gideon. I can see the puddle.”

“Why wouldn’t I be right?”

Agnes took a moment to give the fairy a deadpan stare.

“I’m just making conversation. Helps me focus,” Agnes said.

“Oh.”

Her arm began to tremble as she stretched to reach the center hole. The weeder met with resistance. Peering closer, Agnes swore.

“I told Emily those river stones she bought were too small.”

Undetermined, she took the time to position the weeder to better lever the offending stone over. The effort made her sweat, but she didn’t give up.

“Ah! That did it!” she crowed, feeling water rush over her hand.”

“Well done, Agnes. Now get down from there before you fall.” Gideon said.

Agnes stood on tip-toes to watch the water drop in the flower box.

“Still sluggish. I’ll clear the last one just in case.”

She should have moved the ladder. But Agnes decided to try stretching further. She realized her mistake too late as the ladder slowly tipped.

On the ground, Agnes came to in a twisted heap with Kaitlin Jones above her, yelling frantically. Any harsh words deserted Agnes as an awful pain shot through her right leg as she rolled over.

“I told you to be careful, Ms. Agnes! Why didn’t you ask me for help? Now, look at you!” Kaitlin cried.

Agnes didn’t reply, instead focused on assessing her injuries.

“I told you. Nothing good comes to those who stray from Jesus. Are you ready to give that amulet up? It’s evil, I tell you, Ms. Agnes. Let me help you take it off while we wait for the ambulance.”

Agnes shoved Kaitlin away, but the fire erupting in her wrists made her instantly regret it. She must have broken them when she fell.

“Gideon!” she cried.

“On it!” he cried.

“Who are you talking to? Who’s Gideon? Lord Jesus, protect us!”

Agnes laughed through the pain, hearing the fairy muster his forces to attack.

“Only thing I need protection from is you, Ms. Jones! Now, I suggest you be off before it’s too late.”

The young woman crossed herself hurriedly, eyes darting about. Agnes had tried to warn her. She watched with a clear conscience as Kaitlin fled from the swarm of diving birds.

Word Battle Stretches Into 2023

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I have been putting off posting about my progress because it is humbling to admit I failed to meet my goal. And yet I’m still writing, which is a monumental success. I can’t say enough about the importance of sticking to a routine, tracking progress, and setting realistic goals. I lose momentum when I ignore these things and veer dangerously close to stopping altogether.


On another note, I’ve poured a lot of time and energy into reading. A steady consumption of books (good or bad) is paramount to one’s writing development. I plan to share a list of what I’ve read each month. Stay tuned.


Lastly, committing to focus solely on writing my novel has meant little time to post flash fiction. Finishing a piece boosts my motivation to write. I plan to allow myself space to write and post one short story a month. January’s is titled “An Unexpected Bloom.”

Stats to Celebrate

Current Word Count: 64,848

Estimated Date of Completion of First Draft at Current Pace: Honestly? No idea. LOL. March 31, 2023 if I keep plodding on at this pace. Will be later in year if I continue struggling to adhere to my writing routine.

The Number of Scenes Wrapped: 37

I’m Feeling: Like I’ve wandered from the intended path onto an unfamiliar trail without a map. I know I’ll get to the end eventually, but how and when isn’t clear.

A Memorable Writing Moment: Made first serious attempt at writing an action scene. My appreciation has grown exponentially for authors who can convey exciting battle scenes. This is a skill I need to practice more!

More News From Word Battle 2022

Another “letter home” from the frontlines of Word Battle 2022!

(Don’t know what Word Battle 2022 is? Click Here!)

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Hello Readers,

Wow! I’m in shock! I can’t believe I hit my goal of reaching at least 50,000 words by the end of November. I’m living proof that even when you’re wrestling with doubt, if you show up and put words on the page one day at a time, an actual book begins to take shape.


I’m setting the same goal for the end of December because the story clamors to have extra room to grow. I hope to have a crappy first draft to begin editing and revising in 2023. All my friends who have published successfully assure me that actual writing happens during editing!

Stats to Celebrate

Current Word Count: 50,617. 

Estimated Date of Completion of First Draft at Current Pace: December 31, 2022

The Number of Scenes Wrapped: 26

I’m Feeling: Triumphant! LOL! (Don’t worry. I won’t let the feeling go to my head. Tomorrow I’ll be back in front of the computer, wrestling to get the ideas down!)

A Memorable Writing Moment: Watching a secondary character come to life and demand attention! Crap! Is this a character arc for another book, or has someone just hijacked the plot???

News From the Word Battle Front

Here’s my first “letter home” from the frontlines of Word Battle 2022!

(Don’t know what Word Battle 2022 is? Click Here!)

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Hello Readers,

Today marks the tenth day in a row I’ve dragged myself out of bed early to carve out a solid four hours to work on the first draft of my science fiction novel, Jupiter’s Embrace.

I heard it takes thirty days to build a habit. If true, then I’m one-third of the way there! 

Stats to Celebrate

Current Word Count: 16,563. 

Estimated Date of Completion of First Draft at Current Pace: December 31, 2022

The Number of Scenes Wrapped: 8

I’m Feeling: Exhausted! LOL! (This tiredness is akin to the feeling one has after a day’s hiking or mountain biking on a challenging trail.)

A Memorable Writing Moment: Meeting my arch-villain face-to-face for the first time! 

Updates and Explanations

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To All My Readers: 

Please accept my apology for the long, unexplained absence.

For over a year, I’ve tried hard to write and post flash fiction on this blog multiple times a month while attempting to work on a novel.

An admirable goal, right?

Yes!

But alas, this has proven too much for me to take on all at once and I’ve much preferred posting shorter pieces, garnering likes, reading comments, and watching my audience grow. At the same time, the task of working on my novel seemed impossible.

After much deliberation, I decided to work exclusively on my novel until crafting the first draft. The working title is Jupiter’s Embrace, and I am happy to report in the past two months, I’ve finally been able to break through a wall in developing the story. 

I enjoy writing flash fiction and hope to return to it soon. But there is much work to be done before that happens.

Tomorrow is November 1st, and many of you know it’s time for NaNoWriMo

I’ve signed up to participate, hoping to find the motivation to finish the first draft of Jupiter’s Embrace before the year’s end. 

Have you been sitting on the idea for a novel? Join people from all around the world and me. It’s free, and there’s no harm in trying! 

Click the link below to find NaNoWriMo’s page.

Additionally, I’m participating in AJ Harper’s Word Battle 2022. The format allows for greater flexibility in setting your November goal. Write, edit, blog, do homework, or work on any other task that furthers your writing. It’s also free!

Not up for the pressure of NaNoWriMo? Join Word Battle 2022!

Click the link below to find Word Battle 2022 page. 

Lastly, I plan to post weekly updates about my progress. Stay tuned! 

The Fern Flower Summons (5 of 5)

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

This is the fifth installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Five)

Stumbling to his feet, raising a hand to protect his eyes, Connor squinted into the unexpected glare. Off to his right, he could discern a frail old man’s silhouetted figure walking toward him within the brilliance.

“What? Who are you?”

“Someone you should trust.”

“I don’t understand.”

(connor time runs low)

“Wait! Where is that light coming from? Is that another fern flower?”

(connor a better life awaits take it)

“Ignore the voice! Yes, by God, it is another fern flower! Listen to me, Connor! You’re making a mistake!”

“What? I’m so confused! How do you know…?”

(connor the bloom fades)

“Using the flower is a mistake. What you’re asking for is wrong.”

“Asking for my fair share is wrong? You don’t understand. It’s humiliating how they treat me, my family, everyone living in orbit!”

“I know how you feel. But, this isn’t the right way.”

(connor)

“You don’t know how I feel! You don’t know me!”

“I do because I remember. The exhilaration of stepping into a new world intoxicated me. I gave in to the temptation, ignoring the warning I felt, the warning you feel now. My greed destroyed me, leaving only anguish, robbing me of the joy I sought.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m you. I’m what you become. I am your future.”

“Impossible.”

“It’s true. Trust me, Connor. Wanting for nothing, having everything life offers is a lovely dream, but….”

“You’re lying, trying to trick me out of what I deserve!”

“No, I’m trying to save you and prevent me from ever happening.”

“This is crazy! The flower won’t give me what I want? The voice lies?”

“The voice speaks truthfully, but it does not reveal the cost of wishing.”

“What cost?”

“Choosing this path will provide you with unimaginable wealth. But, you can never share it.”

“And that’s a bad thing? Surface-dwelling snobs hoard everything without consequence!”

“Connor, you will gain what you wish but lose everything you love. The fern flower’s power can never be used to help anyone else, even friends and family.”

“Hey! Disembodied voice! Is this true?”

(using the flower to help others will negate its power undoing your wish)

“Will my wish hurt my family?” 

(no your good fortune need not come at their expense)

“See! I can make things better for myself. I’ll explain everything. My family will be happy for me. They’ll understand. Finally, I’ll be able to help them if there’s a real emergency. I’ll give everything up when I need to.”

“Connor, altering reality is dangerous. It changed me. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but I began to think of myself as invincible, above the law. Justifying my actions became easier the further I slipped into the world I created for myself. But, it all came crashing down when Phoebe…when she….”

“What about Phoebe? Why are you crying? What happens to her?”

“I had the power to save her, but I hesitated. Addicted to the life I created, I feared losing the flower. I reasoned the odds of helping her were slim. I told myself I would sacrifice everything when all other options ran out, but I waited too long. She died unexpectedly from complications during an experimental procedure. My greed subjected her to needless suffering.”

“What? I’d never allow that to happen!”

“Connor, I’ve lived a privileged life, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but my memories of enduring ridicule have always prevented me from doing the right thing. No matter how I tried to have it all, the flower has consistently denied me the true treasure of sharing my life with someone else.”

(infinite are the paths the flower offers with foresight you may choose differently)

“Yes, you’ve given me the warning I need.”

“No, don’t do this.”

“Why shouldn’t I enjoy the good life while I can? If I make wise decisions, nothing bad will happen.”

“Think of Phoebe.”

“I’ll write all this down! I promise to remember! I’ll be better than you!”

“Will you? Is it worth the risk? Will you accept wealth, power, and status now, knowing people you love might suffer and die because of it?”

“But, the voice says I can take a different path.” 

“I beg you! Walk away from this evil!”

(it is time to choose)

His future self’s warning frightened Connor. He rejected the possibility of ever becoming this wretch. But, the thorny seed of doubt had been planted. No matter how he tried to pluck it out, the grotesque image of a bleak, lonely future grew, threatening to overwhelm him. He shook, cried, and stamped his feet as he gazed between the ugly old man and the exquisite flower.

“Connor, all the universes have to offer isn’t worth a damn thing without someone to share it.”

(will you take the flower)

Connor hesitated, hoping to ascertain the true strength of his character. He desperately wanted what his other classmates possessed but feared the uncertainty. He knew he couldn’t rule out the danger of making the same mistakes. 

“Connor, reflect on the happiness you have now being amongst friends and family. Contentment comes in many forms.”

He recognized the truth in the old man’s words, realizing he only yearned to be accepted. Suddenly, he understood if Bright Star Academy couldn’t give him that, somewhere else could. Fate had dealt him a difficult hand, but he suspected changing reality should happen, moment by moment, throughout one’s life.

“I’m afraid I must decline. Some things are just too good to be true.”

0500 hours, June 21, 2433

Connor found himself abruptly standing in the meadow overlooking the school campsite. His teachers and classmates gathered quietly about the fading fire. He entered the circle and sat down next to a fellow student whose name he couldn’t remember.  

“Where’ve you been, Connor?”

“Got lost. Thought I found something. Turned out to be nothing.”

“Well, you missed the excitement. Freddy fell into the river, trying to fish a wreath out. He almost drowned! Ironic, he’s so athletic but apparently can’t swim.”

“Must’ve been quite the sight.”

It occurred to Connor his classmate spoke to him normally without any hint of derision. 

“Wait…why… why are you talking to me?”

“Ouch! But suppose I deserve that. Hey, I know I shouldn’t let those jerks intimidate me. And I’m sorry, Freddy and Brad give you such a hard time.”

“It has made things kind of rough.”

“Well, you seem like a nice guy. Anyway, I’m tired of letting them decide who’s cool and who’s not. Personally, I could care less if you live in orbit.”

“Now, I need to apologize. I’ve no idea what your name is. In my defense though, I don’t talk to anyone.”

“Nathan.”

“Nice to meet you, Nathan.”

Professor Dalton interrupted the quiet of predawn as he jumped up and down excitedly. 

“Amazing, Dabrowski! That last spike in multidimensional radiation topped everything! I hope it didn’t damage my scanner. It’s completely silent now. I’m not even picking up the background levels we saw yesterday afternoon. Whatever it was, it’s gone now. But, I must say this has been a worthwhile experiment. Plenty of data to publish!”

“Ah, sorry to hear that, Dalton. Perhaps, the approaching dawn drives the denizens of Para away. Look, the sun’s beginning to rise.”

Connor smiled eagerly, facing east to witness his first sunrise. He couldn’t help but feel as if he had passed some test. He didn’t expect his difficulties to vanish, but he felt hope again. 

1200 hours, June 21, 2507

Jeeves and Alfred waited, watching the sun climb higher and higher.

“It’s 12:00. Sir, has not returned. What does this mean?”

“Sir has found what he sought.”

“Now, what?”

“Per his instructions, seek out our new master in New Seattle.” 


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (4 of 5)

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This is the fourth installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Four)

Convinced the source of the distant glow was multidimensional, Connor rushed off, determined to confide in Professor Dabrowski. Having misjudged the distance and his ability to navigate the darkness, he stopped to recover his bearings. His heart sunk, realizing the light had vanished. As Connor searched for it, the dazzling radiance rematerialized in the field before him. Staring in disbelief, he couldn’t shake the feeling it beckoned to him. Mesmerized, he stepped tentatively forward. 

(come closer)

Startled, Connor halted. Rooted in place, he trembled, doubting his sanity. 

(don’t stop now)

“Who’s there?”

(follow the light all will be revealed)

An unbearable urge to enter the woods welled inside Connor. But, he found the light’s retreat into the dense undergrowth disconcerting. His courage failed at the forest’s edge.

“What do you want?”

(to help you connor)

“How do you know my name?”

(your mind is easy to read)

“Why couldn’t anyone else see the light?”

(you are the one chosen)

“Why?”

(you endure great unhappiness)

“Why should that matter?”

(is it wrong to remedy harm inflicted)

“No, but I don’t understand. Who are you? Why do you move deeper into the woods?”

(the gift resides there within)

“What gift?”

(indulge your curiosity bravely follow the light)

“Why should I trust you?”

(risk abides in every action and refusal to act)

“What will I find?”

(what you already suspect)

“The fern flower?”

(yes)

Connor wrestled with conflicting emotions. Endless possibilities ran through his mind. Although the offer tempted him, experience had taught Connor nothing in life was truly free. He supposed interacting with another dimension could have unforeseen consequences. Faltering, he tried to decide whether to play it safe and return to the bonfire or accept the risk, follow the light and take his fair share of wealth and privilege. 

“Stay there. Don’t move. I’m coming.”

Connor tramped forward, pushing through the brush until he stepped into a hollow filled with radiant light emanating from a floating orb of energy. A large oak stood in the middle, its branches thickly overhanging to create a secluded grotto. Nestled between the tree’s gnarled roots, a beautiful woodland fern grew. Fine motes of light drifted down from underneath its fronds, coating the ground with glittering dust. A golden stem extended up in its center, bearing a magnificent flower. 

Connor watched the luminous sphere descend and merge with the blossom to cast an array of iridescent light through its translucent petals. Connor felt an intense heat radiating from the bloom. 

(rarely do mortal eyes gaze upon the ferns fiery blossom)

“I… I am honored.”

(do you know the magic it holds)

“Professor Dabrowski says it has the power to grant wishes.”

(correct)

“If I wish for something, will it happen right away?”

(the magic works subtly until time brings your desire to fruition)

“How’s this possible? Magic isn’t real in this world.”

(what you call magic is simply energy capable of shifting reality bringing desired aspects from countless parallel universes into this one)

“I want to be like my classmates. I want to live on the surface. I want to be respected and admired. I want the life they have!”

(ask for limitless wealth the rest will follow)

Connor crept closer to the fern. Variegated light illuminated his body as he fell to his knees. Tentatively, he extended a hand to touch the flower.

“Do I pick the blossom?”

(fear not the bloom is imperishable utter a wish pluck it forever yours to keep)

The crack of snapping wood and crunching leaves startled Connor out of his reverie. He vainly searched the surrounding darkness, his eyes struggling to adjust. He suddenly suspected someone had followed him. The thought angered him.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

(a woodland creature ignore it make your wish)

Connor recalled his mother’s fear of wildlife.

“Animal? It sounds huge.”

(the hour grows late)

Detecting a trace of irritation in the voice’s tone, Conner again reconsidered accepting help from the multidimensional entity. But, his qualms fled as he turned back to behold the flower’s ethereal beauty. An intense desire for wealth and status reconquered him.

“Yes, of course. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

(hurry)

Energy pulsed up his hand as he grasped the flower, numbing his entire arm. The stem resisted his pull. 

(state your desire to reap the bloom)

“I want….”

A dazzling flash accompanied by the crackle of arching electricity interrupted Connor’s wish.

“Wait! Stop! Say nothing! There’s something you need to know!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (3 of 5)

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This is the third installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Three)

“Shall we get started, Dabrowski? I have conducted baseline scans for dimensional radiation, but I’m depending on you to guide us through these archaic rituals.”

The literature professor set his suitcases down near the bonfire, opening one with a flourish. 

“Now, everyone, gather around. I’ve had costumes specially fabricated for this experiment. I think you’ll find them quite amusing.”

Connor’s classmates bunched forward, shoving him aside. 

“Don’t touch anything, Orbit!” someone whispered.

“Yeah, careful! I hear Orbitals are allergic to everything down here. You could go into anaphylactic shock.”

“It’s like Orbitals aren’t even human.”

“Probably why resettlement restrictions exist. It’s for their own good.”

“Nah, if we let everyone back, it’ll ruin the climate again.”

Mortified, Connor fled to another part of the circle.

“Tonight’s the eve of the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Humanity has long revered the solstice, believing it a time when a portal to the fey realms opens.”

“Fey realms? Professor, is that another name for Para?”

“Yes, I suspect so. Now, I’ve brought along plenty of traditional Slavic costumes for anyone wishing to dress the part. The academy has graciously provided funding for replicas made with transforma-cloth. You’ll find everything adjusts to fit.”

“Professor, they’re so garish!”

“Ah, but that was the style.”

The students began picking through the pile of multicolored garments as Professor Dabrowski opened the other suitcase to reveal a jumble of clippings. 

“Now, we have violet, rosemary, vervain, thyme, hyssop, mugwort, lavender, and St. John’s Wort.”

“What are we doing with flowers, Professor?”

“Making wreaths. These plants were believed to be magical, especially on Midsummer Night’s Eve.”

“How so? 

“Providing protection from wayward spirits or conversely attracting good luck. Some even claimed such herbs could help find true love.”

“Scandalous, Professor!”

“What kind of field trip is this?”

“Don’t be gross!”

“I think it’s romantic!”

“Ladies, gentlemen, please control yourselves. Remember, this is a school function.”

“Professor, how’re a bunch of flowers going to find true love?!”

“Glad you asked! Simply weave them into a wreath and toss it into the river. If your suitor retrieves it without getting wet, rest assured knowing their love is true!”

“Why can’t we get wet?”

“Because of the rusalka.”

“The what?”

“Spirits lurking beneath the waters eager to lure helpless young men and women to their doom! Remember, the veil between worlds is at its weakest tonight!”

“I’m not afraid.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“It’s not real.”

“Para is real.”

“That’s different.”

“Yeah, this is just a superstition.”

“Ah, but we’re here to test that conviction. Are these truly just fairytales? Other dimensions and parallel universes hid around every corner. Science has proven this. Contact with the inhabitants of Para has cast everything into doubt.”

“You’re scaring me, Professor.”

“Rest assured, you’ll be completely safe provided you remain dry. In the event you fall into the water, our bonfire will ward you from harm. Its flames summon kindly faeries keen to bestow aid and good fortune.”

“Really? What kind of aid, Professor?”

“Success during the coming year or good health.”

“How about passing all my exams?”

“A worthy aspiration for all my students!” 

“Professor, what’s special about the fire?”

“It’s the bravery displayed about the bonfire that’s important.”

“Professor?”

“Our ancestors leapt the flames hoping to prove themselves worthy of otherworldly gifts, favors, and secret knowledge.”

“Like hidden treasure?”

“Most sought help procuring the fern flower, a rare blossom found only on Midsummer’s Eve.”

“And if you find it?”

“Discovery grants a wish.”

“We should try to find it!”

“Yeah, where do we look, Professor?”

“I should warn you. The flower is guarded. Legend says only true desperation reveals its location.”

Connor wondered why any of his classmates would ever need to find such a flower. Wishes were meaningless when you already had everything, he thought. 

“Remember, everyone, make time to acquaint yourself with the dim-scanner. I’ve collected rather unusual readings with Professor Dabrowski’s arrival and subsequent lecture. Perhaps there is something to all this nonsense. Sorry, Dabrowski, no offense intended.”

“None taken, Dalton. You are, undeniably, a consummate man of science. Leave the imagining to me!”

With instructions given, the students dispersed. Some plopped near the fire with armfuls of cuttings for making wreaths, while others danced about waiting to jump the bonfire. Connor sat on the outskirts quietly surveying the antics. He found himself distracted by the countless fireflies flickering about in the surrounding darkness.

“Finished my wreath. Protect me as I toss it into the river, Brad?”

“Absolutely, Chelsea!”

Connor watched the couple stumble off, giggling. As usual, everyone ignored him, but tonight he didn’t care. Leaning back on his elbows, he stretched his legs and gazed across the meadow. Above, the lights from Earth’s ring of artificial structures twinkled brightly. While trying to locate New Seattle, his eye was suddenly drawn to a glimmering glow near the forest’s edge. It appeared to him to be another fire. Startled, Connor jumped up to get a better view.

“Do you see that?”

Several heads turned toward Connor.

“Are you talking to us?”

“Ah…yes. Do you see that light?”

“They’re called fireflies, Orbit.”

“No, in the woods. See the light changing color?”

“I don’t see anything. You feeling ok?”

 Out of character, Connor grabbed hold of someone walking by. 

“Tell me you can see that!” 

His classmate angrily brushed Connor’s hand away. 

“Let go of me, Orbit! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Uh…sorry.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean….”

“He’s hallucinating or something.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t even be here.”

Embarrassed, feeling trapped, Connor’s eyes darted about frantically. Spying Professor Dalton, he rushed over to the man. 

“Professor! Professor! Professor Dalton!”

“Connor? Whatever is the matter?” 

Connor glanced quickly again to the forest seeing the light still blazed conspicuously. His stomach clenched, realizing he alone could see it. He paused to recollect himself.

“Sorry, Professor. Nothing’s wrong. Just a bit excited to be here.”

“I should say so.”

“Professor, I’m curious. Has the scanner picked up any indication of an actual dimensional rift developing nearby?”

“Why yes, Connor. I owe Dabrowski an apology. The readings are off the charts.”

“Any idea where?”

Surprised to hear such eagerness in his student’s voice, Professor Dalton quickly scrutinized Connor. 

“Well, multidimensional radiation is high everywhere, but it increases significantly on this side of the bonfire.”

“Is the scanner difficult to use?”

“No, not at all. Give it a go, Connor. It’s straightforward enough once calibrated, which I accomplished painstakingly earlier. Simply point and press this button to capture a reading.”

“Have you scanned closer to the forest?”

“What? Well, no. I’ve focused my attention around Dabrowski’s activities.”

“Professor, may I sample levels further away from the bonfire?”

“A budding scientist, eh Connor? By all means, but let’s not stray far. Lady Science demands controlled methodical inquiry. Remember, our objective is to uncover any correlation between concentrations of dimensional radiation and reenacting superstitious practices.”

Walking several paces towards the woods, Connor took a measurement.

“Interesting, Connor! This warrants further investigation. Unquestionably, this uptick in energy suggests the presence of a nearby weakening of the division between our universe and the next.”

“Perhaps, the bonfire really does provide some kind of protection.” 

“Interesting. Dabrowski will be delighted to hear this.”

“Where is Professor Dabrowski, sir?”

“He’s down by the river. The notion of treacherous spirits skulking about is absurd, but youthful shenanigans are not.”

“I’ll tell him what we found. Thank you, Professor!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (2 of 5)

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This is the second installment of five. Here is the link for part one for anyone who missed it.


The Fern Flower Summons”(Part Two)

1800 hours, June 19, 2433 

“Connor! You’re home!”

Connor’s little sister tackled him as he entered their family’s modest living quarters. 

“Hey, Phoebe.”

“Please help me with my presentation! Mom’s useless.” 

“Sure, what’s it about?”

“How interacting with parallel universes will change society.”

“Really?”

“Hey! I’m not little anymore. I’m learning important stuff.”

“Relax, I know. It’s just we also talked about Para in literature class today.”

Phoebe beamed triumphantly. 

“I’m catching up to you! We’re studying the same things!”

“Guess you should advance your application to Bright Star Academy now. Well, only if you can stomach spending time with condescending jerks.”

Phoebe frowned.

“Is anyone nice there?”

“The teachers can be.”

“Oh, Connor.”

Her genuine concern touched him.

“Don’t worry. I’m tougher than I look.”

“I’ve got an idea for my presentation!”

“What?”

“Contact with Para means we can travel to all sorts of parallel worlds. Nobody has to live in space anymore!”

“Always the optimist. Hope you’re right.”

“If you set your mind to it, you can do anything.”

“Can you convince Mom and Dad to give me money for transport to the surface?”

“The surface?! Wow! Why?”

“School outing.”

“Where? To do what?”

“Professor Dabrowski thinks myths and folklore about fairies are based on actual historical encounters with dimensional rifts into Para. He wants to use the school’s dim-scanner to prove his theory.”

“I wish I could go! You’re so lucky!”

“Not if I can’t get money for the fare.”

“I’ve saved some money from babysitting. You can have it if you pay me back.”

“Let’s see what Mom and Dad say first. Hopefully, I can use the money I’ve saved working during breaks. Supposed to be for university, but this is a school trip. They might say yes.”

Connor’s mom looked apprehensive. Rarely on the surface, being outside frightened her. 

“I don’t know, Connor. Is this trip safe? You’ll be in the wilderness? I’ve read about animal attacks.”

“I’ll be with a bunch of people.”

“Still makes me nervous. School’s providing transport?”

“No. We have to arrange our own ride.”

“What about the school’s private transport your scholarship provides?”

“I asked. It’s only for travel to and from campus.”

“Can’t someone offer you passage?”

“Everyone lives on the surface, Mom. They’ll already be there. No one’s going to make a special trip up for me.”

His father balked at the cost.

“Ship fare’s a month’s worth of wages.”

“I have the money.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, Connor! That money is for university.”

“Mom, please! I can work extra shifts.”

“Your mother’s right. That money is for school, not entertainment.”

Frustrated, Connor gave up.

“Mom, you always say breaking into surface society requires good connections.”

“Phoebe, your point?”

“Everyone at Connor’s school treats him differently. This is a chance for him to fit in.”

“I’m sure he has friends. Don’t you, Connor?”

Connor shrugged, staring at his feet. 

“And Dad, you’re always preaching that we should stand up for ourselves and force others to acknowledge us. You say things will never change if Orbitals keep floating around up here, manufacturing everything for the elites below.”

Their father smiled proudly at Phoebe, nodding his head.

“This idea of crashing a surface-dweller’s party is beginning to appeal to me.”

“Honey? I don’t want Connor getting political.”

“No, this is perfect. He can wear my union protest gear.”

 “Dad, that’s not going to help Connor fit in.”

“Well, he could wear a slogan. How about Celebrate Climate Restoration! Bring Everyone Home!

“Dad, stop!”

“I’m serious. I could ask the action committee to pay for the trip. Think of the publicity!”

Connor hated the idea. But desperation got the better of him.

“I’ll do it.”

“That’s my boy!”

“Honey, no. This isn’t fair to Connor. I’ve money tucked away for emergencies.”

“But, Babe?”

“I won’t have him used as a political pawn. Connor, you can go. But, I expect extra help around here while your father and I work overtime.”

Phoebe jumped gleefully as Connor hugged his mother.

1300 hours, June 20, 2433

After waiting in line for close to an hour, Connor managed to find a seat on the commercial Earth-bound shuttle. A throng of people swarmed about the cabin, filling the space with noise, odors, and clutter. 

“Connor. Mind if I sit with you?”

Professor Dabrowski struggled to stow several cumbersome bags before dropping into his seat. 

“Professor? What are you doing here? Why all the luggage?”

“Traveling to our campsite.”

“But, I thought….”

 “And… you’ll have to wait to see what I’ve packed for our expedition.”

“What are you doing in New Seattle?”

“Just because I teach at a prestigious school on Earth doesn’t necessarily mean I live on Earth.”

“You live in New Seattle?”

“Used to. Visiting with family for a couple rotations. My wife and I live on Manchester Station.” 

“I’ve never seen you on the school transport.”

“I stay down in staff quarters on campus when school is in session. But, when I do travel, I prefer commercial ships. They’re more interesting than stuffy, private shuttles.”

“I guess.”

“Oh, come on, Connor. Humanity is enriched by diversity. In some respects, you’re better off than other Bright Star Academy students.”

“Sorry, Professor? How could I possibly…?”

“No, I’m sorry, Connor. I forget how limiting it is to grow up in orbit. I, too, dreamed of living on Earth. I remember feeling cheated by my circumstances.”

Professor Dabrowski’s admission piqued Connor’s curiosity.

“How did you do it?”

“What? Oh, you mean, how did I avoid an unfulfilling, low-wage job in an orbital manufacturing plant?”

“Yes.”

Professor Dabrowski took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

“Just like you, I studied. I aced my exams and earned a scholarship to a school on the surface.”

“Why don’t you and your wife live on Earth?”

“Connor, there’s more to it than making enough money. The elites living below have a plethora of unspoken rules. Life there is restrictive, stifling. I prefer to keep a wider perspective.”

“What restrictions? Surface-dwellers have everything one could want!”

“And they don’t appreciate it. They’re bored, trapped in a scripted world of endless leisure.”

“Sounds great to me.”

“You’re lucky to be able to think outside of the box. You can take risks because you have nothing to lose.”

Connor flinched.

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be so brusque.”

“No, you’re right. Thanks to the government, my family has just what’s necessary, but nothing else. Opportunities to get ahead are scarce. Earning my scholarship to Bright Star Academy was a dream come true.”

“And what do you intend to do with this opportunity?”

“Become filthy rich, move permanently to the planet and never come back.”

“You’ll leave your family, friends, and countless others like you behind?”

“I’ll never abandon my family.”

“Well, a word of caution, the privileged like to talk about equality and rewarding hard work, but there’s very little they want to change or share when it comes to action.”

“But, you’ve been able to work and live on the surface.”

“Yes, because I’m an amusing oddity. Think of me as Bright Star Academy’s mascot for charitable contributions.”

His conversation with Professor Dabrowski unsettled Connor. Excusing himself, he lingered in the crowded dining compartment, only returning to his seat just before their destination. 

“Ah, Connor. I feared my pessimism scared you away.”

“No, not at all. Just grabbing snacks.” Connor lied.

“I remember those days. My father contemplated getting a second job to buy food!”

Connor felt guilty hiding. He really did like Professor Dabrowski. Discovering their common background made him realize he had unexpectedly found someone at school who understood how he felt.

An announcement sounded, indicating the shuttle had reached Krakow. Connor prepared to disembark, eager to finally visit another part of Earth. After navigating through security, they found themselves standing in a waiting area jam-packed with boisterous reunions and the shrill calls of vendors hawking souvenirs. Extensive lines queuing for refreshments, lavatories, and taxis branched about, creating a chaotic maze of people. 

“There’s our ride. Come on.”

Connor briefly caught a glimpse of a man leaning against a hovercraft, holding a sign for Bright Star Academy.

“Glad you’re leading, Professor. I’d be overwhelmed on my own!”

During the ride, Professor Dabrowski and the driver chatted amicably. At the same time, Connor gawked at the rolling pastoral landscape and immense country estates. Witnessing firsthand the stark contrast between life in orbit and that on the surface angered him. He knew he’d do anything to live here. 

“Oh, excellent! Professor Dalton has already built a lovely bonfire.”

Connor’s heart leapt into his throat, seeing his classmates frolicking about the encampment. He felt the weight of his awkwardness return. Even more than at school, he felt like an intruder here.

“Dabrowski! How good of you to join us! I was beginning to worry. Trouble with public transport?”

“Never fear, Dalton. I am here. All is well. Traveling with the masses may be slow, but I find it exhilarating!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!