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)

Photo by Vicente Segura on Pexels.com

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.

Gold for Indie Authors? Book Reviews!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When I’ve connected with a new book, I almost feel obligated to share a review. I suppose it’s only natural to want to share what one is excited about. But, as a new writer (nowhere near publishing anything yet), I am also beginning to understand how much time and effort it takes to craft a quality story. Once complete, the author sends their creation out into the world, praying others will also love and cherish it as they do. One of the best things we can do for our favorite indie authors is post reviews of their books. I encourage everyone else to do the same.


Book Review: Mother Portia by Nick Pipitone

Science fiction is rife with chilling stories concerning the inevitable emergence of self-aware artificial intelligence. Usually, the reader is confronted with a doomsday scenario, portraying an outmatched humanity battling for survival against its malevolent creation. Nick Pipitone’s novella, Mother Portia, takes a refreshingly different approach to explore what might happen when a supercomputer becomes sentient.

Pipitone imagines a promising future. After decades of teetering on the brink of self-annihilation, humanity’s salvation comes from a benevolent, all-knowing, artificial super-consciousness called Portia. Incredible scientific advances made possible with the help of this AI technology have solved the most pressing problems challenging the planet in the 21st century. But, the reader quickly discovers lurking behind this utopian façade is an enduring culture war fomenting a growing level of distrust, unrest, and acts of violence.

Leave it to humanity to take a good idea and mess it up! Most people happily abdicate power, ambition, and values in a mad rush to enjoy the new freedom Portia offers. There is no need to work. Advances in healthcare have eliminated disease, old age, and even the need for sleep. Life becomes nothing more than the pursuit of pleasure for most. But, not everyone agrees Portia has changed the world for the better. As one can imagine, the rampant rise in hedonistic behavior threatens to undermine the authority of institutions espousing traditional morality and family values. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that a new, increasingly popular cult has emerged dedicated to worshipping and communing with the new god of science, Portia. The world’s traditional faiths begin reeling from a rapid, seemingly irreversible decline in membership and relevancy.

Repulsed by the deification of Portia, members of various faiths have joined together to fight this common enemy. The result is the Collective, a loose alliance committed to ridding the world of artificial intelligence at all costs. It is quickly labeled a terrorist group. Mother Portia is a thought-provoking exploration of humanity’s inclination to use religion to justify even the most heinous acts of violence.

Azibo, a devout Christian, refuses to interact with Portia, leaving him isolated, living a meager existence on the fringes of society. He finds purpose though working as an informant for the Collective. When offered an opportunity to do more for the cause, Azibo is elated and ready to sacrifice everything. But, as in real life, he finds his beliefs challenged as he encounters a broad spectrum of other members of the faithful struggling to respond and adapt to this new world. He soon discovers the notion of truth is easily contorted by those eager to remain in power.

The story’s true antagonist is humanity’s inability to purge itself of hatred and intolerance driven by contrived differences. I appreciate how the author avoids making any overt judgment about the morality of creating artificial intelligence. Mother Portia is a thought-provoking exploration of how one man’s quest to destroy a hated enemy leads him to unexpected good fortune in the arms of what he fears the most.

Follow the links to download and read: Mother Portia by Nick Pipitone

Check out more of Nick Pipitone’s writing at his website: Fiction and Ideas

Flash Fiction: Cracked Stucco


Here’s another piece of flash fiction. It needs more work, but I had fun with it. Liked the idea of the woman being fearless while her boyfriend is the scaredy-cat! LOL.

“Sinister Muse”

Ben and Zoey slipped through the hole in a fence surrounding the abandoned estate. Legends of greed, untimely death, and cult activity attracted paranormal enthusiasts to the infamous movie mogul’s home like bugs to a porchlight.

The local authorities made some effort to keep the structure boarded up. Still, a new blog posting details of past investigations had revitalized interest.

“Think we parked the car far enough away?”

“Yeah, relax.”

“My parents will kill me if we’re arrested for trespassing.”

“I think the cops have better things to worry about.”

The couple crept across the overgrown grounds toward the rear of the building.

“This is a bad idea. I can’t see anything.”

“Come on. Don’t wimp out now.”

“I’m not. I’m just stating the obvious.”

“Want me to go back and get the night vision goggles?”

“You have night-vision goggles?”

“No, stupid.”

“Oh.”

“Honestly, you’re so gullible, Ben.”

“How am I supposed to know? You have an infra-red gun, EMF meter, and a voice recorder. I’m surprised you don’t have night-vision goggles.”

“You’re stalling.”

“By all means, then lead the way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you fall into a ditch.”

Zoey kissed Ben on the cheek.

“You’re so sexy when you’re frightened.”

“Wow. That’s dark. Were you a black widow in a previous life?”

“Probably. Now, help me find this poorly secured window someone posted about yesterday.”

A few splinters and a nasty scratch later, Zoey stumbled upon what she was looking for.

“Yes, told you. The plywood comes right off. It looks attached, but the nails are cut. See, just the heads are left.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Let’s just do this before I chicken out.”

They climbed inside, pulling the board back across the window. Thumbing their phone lights on, they began to explore. Zoey scanned the room with the EMF meter.

“Whoa! Zoey! This place is remarkably well-preserved! The furniture’s still here. Filthy, but still all here!”

“I knew you’d love it. I heard the family insisted on leaving everything exactly as it was on the day of the murder.”

“It’s like stepping back to the golden age of Hollywood.”

“Plenty of inspiration here for a set design intern. Still scared?”

“Yes. But, it helps feeling like I’m in a scene from Grand Hotel.”

“Take lots of pictures.”

“You know they debunked ghost orbs. They’re just motes of dust.”

“No, for your scrapbook. Crazy how the owners decorated the place. How much do you think it would cost nowadays to have all this carved wood?”

“Actually, it’s not wood.”

“What?”

“That’s not wood.”

“I heard you the first time. What is it then?”

“Stucco. It’s a kind of plaster. Very versatile. Easier to work with and cheaper.”

“Learn that in architecture?”

“Yep, and while working with my uncle during vacation.”

“Glad to see art school is teaching you something practical.”

“Hey, interior design is a respectable career. My uncle makes tons of money. And it’s safer than investigative journalism. I know you’re dying to cover a war zone someday. Pun intended.”

“Oh, you have no idea, Benny-Boy. I’ll be there in a heartbeat. I’m the next Clarissa Ward.”

“As long as you’re home for dinner.”

“Come on, Martha. Let’s check the rest of this place out.”

Ben followed Zoey out into a hallway.

“Need to find the main stairwell. It’s a hotbed of paranormal activity.”

“Great, now I’m anxious again.”

“Come on, baby. You can hold my hand.”

“I’d rather we went back to the car and made out.”

“I’ve got a better idea. Let’s find the master suite.”

“Sure, because that doesn’t sound like the plot of every horror movie ever made.”

The EMF scanner chirped, startling both of them.

“Ooh, we’re picking something up.”

Zoey squeezed Ben’s hand as they shuffled forward. One by one, indicator lights turned on until the entire array blazed brightly. Before them, a large space loomed.

“Zoey, look. This is the formal entrance. There’s the grand staircase.”

“Loads of EMF activity!”

“Can we leave now?”

“Oh, come on, Ben.”

“I’m sorry. This is super creepy!”

“Just five minutes. I want to take a few temperature readings and try to capture an EVP.”

“Ah, fine!”

“Why don’t you explore the decorum. This part of the house is probably fancier. You know, first impressions and that kind of thing.”

Ben shone a light about the foyer at the bottom of the stairs while Zoey busied herself with ghost hunting.

“You’re right. Check out these wall sconces!”

“Uh, huh. Nice.”

“And the detail around the front door is absolutely exquisite.”

“Temperature’s cooler over here.”

Absorbed in taking photos, Ben stumbled unexpectedly over something.

“What the…? There’s crap all over the place. Watch your step.”

“Uh, huh. I will.”

Picking up a piece of rubble, Ben recognized the chalky, white material.

“Stucco.”

He flipped over another chunk, revealing the cracked visage of a woman.

“That’s a shame.”

“What?”

“Looks like someone decided to tear down and crush all this statuary.”

“Maybe an earthquake?”

“And dumped it all in a pile here?”

“Probably fell from the walls.

“Everything in here seems intact.”

“I don’t know then.”

“Me either. Are you ready to go? I like this place less and less the longer we’re here.”

“I want to go upstairs.”

“Come on. I’m bored and hungry.”

“And scared.”

“Yes, but I think I’ve made a lot of progress today. You’re not going to turn me into a paranormal investigator overnight.”

“Just to the top of the landing. I promise.”

“Fine.”

Zoey grinned and rushed over to give Ben a kiss.

“I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“You better.”

Ben shivered, watching Zoey climb the stairs with the temperature gun in one hand and the EMF meter in the other. Her excitement grew with each step as her equipment’s sensors flashed and beeped with increasing intensity.

“You should come up here! This is amazing.”

“I’m good.”

The EMF meter’s lights silhouetting Zoey fell dark as she reached the last step.

“Damn! Can’t be the battery? I just charged everything.”

Frustrated, she examined the equipment.

“It’s a sign we should go.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Let’s go.”

Ben huffed as Zoey lingered.

“Hey! There’s lots more stucco up here. It’s all over the floor.”

Her feet crunched as she moved onto the balcony.

“You said to the top of the stairs. Come on, Zoey! Let’s go!”

“I think I figured out where all your stucco came from. The ceiling’s covered with it. See, I was right. It must have fallen during an earthquake. Look.”

Her phone’s narrow beam of light illuminated a classically-garbed figure.

“Its face is missing. Are there more?”

“Yeah.”

Zoey highlighted another statue.

“Have your tactical flashlight on you?”

“Yes. But, I thought you were worried about attracting attention.”

“Turn it on for a second. I want to see more of the ceiling.”

“Ooh, babe! Risky! I like this new, brave Ben.”

“Shut up and just do it.”

An oblong patch of light spilled across the ceiling revealing elaborate decorations and multiple effigies of robed women.

“It’s the muses.”

“How can you tell?”

“Easy. That one’s Urania with the globe and compass. There’s Terpsichore with a lyre. That one’s quite damaged, but I can see the comedy mask and shepherd’s staff. That’s Thalia. Besides, there are nine figures, one for each Greek muse.”

“You think someone vandalized these?”

“I mean, I guess an earthquake could have, but only the faces have been damaged.”

Zoey headed back toward the staircase.

“Hey, Ben? Something’s odd.”

Zoey’s voice sounded tense.

“What?”

“Only five have been defaced.”

“So?”

“Someone did this on purpose. And I think I know why.”

“Why?”

“You probably can’t see from down there, but scratches connecting the destroyed heads are scored into the plaster.”

“Probably caused by whatever they used to scrape the stucco away.”

“Maybe.”

Zoey’s step quickened as she descended the stairs.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to scare you, but you know there’s one thing I don’t mess around with when doing an investigation.”

“You mean…?”

“Don’t say it.”

Zoey stood close to Ben, squeezing his hand tight as she peered up.

“Five faces destroyed. Look at the order, the spacing. The lines are difficult to see down here, but that’s a pentagram.”

“That settles it. I’m definitely not a ghost hunter.”

“Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Happily.”

Ben stopped short and turned.

“Put that crazy-ass light out.”

“No one’s going to see it. The place is boarded up.”

“Please turn it off.”

“Ok, ok.”

Darkness engulfed the room, surprising both of them.

“Turn your phone light back on!”

“It was on! Turn yours on!”

“I’m trying!”

“Stop fucking around, Zoey!”

“I’m not!”

“Use the flashlight again!”

“Give me a sec!”

“Zoey!”

“It’s not working either!”

The EMF meter squawked, indicator lights blazing.

“Zoey! The ceiling! Look at the ceiling!”

“Just run!”

Fleeing, Zoey glanced up. Unearthly eyes shone down menacingly from the five ruined faces forming the points of an eerily shimmering pentagram.


Word Count: 1500

Word Prompt: cracked stucco

Courtesy of The Twiglets. Great site for writing prompts and inspiration. Check it out!

Flash Fiction: Psychological Warfare

Here’s this month’s attempt at micro fiction! My goal is to effectively convey an image or idea with very few words. Fun, but quite challenging! Hope you enjoy!

“Victory, together, no matter the cost! Venerate, protect, our supreme overlord!”

Why am I shouting?

Left, left, left, right, left.

I can’t stop marching!

Edward awoke, upright, moving, surrounded by soldiers. Bewildered, he struggled to remember.

What’s going on?

Images remerged of a demagogue railing against traitors within and enemies without.

(Resist. You’re brainwashed.)

Who’s there?

(We’re overriding your programming remotely. You’re free to think and do as you please.)

Edward halted, dropping his weapon.


Word Count: 75

Word Prompt: march

Prompt from Chronicles Science Fiction and Fantasy Community‘s 75 Word Challenge.

Jupiter’s Embrace (Chapter Four)

I love writing, but sometimes coaxing the words on to the page can be a real slog! This week has been especially tough as I returned to working on the next chapter for my book, Jupiter’s Embrace.

I have to admit I’ve struggled a lot with this story and given into the temptation to leave it on the back burner more often than not. But, I’m committed to figuring out what ultimately happens to Riker, Pauline and Johnny.

This project began in response to the word prompt: float.

The original piece was a mere 500 words portraying a snapshot of a prison transport ship ferrying a hardened criminal to a maximum security facility floating deep within Jupiter’s atmosphere.

I found myself wondering how Riker wound up on that spaceship.

Jupiter’s Embrace has become a story about how a man guilty of one crime becomes a convenient scapegoat for an even greater one.

Much remains to be discovered, but I know Riker is a flawed character worthy of redemption. He’s the classic example of someone at the wrong place at the wrong time, who knows too much and wishes he knew nothing at all.

If you have read along so far, I hope you enjoy chapter four. But, if you haven’t read the first three chapters, I encourage you to do that first.

Here’s a link below to earlier chapters.