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Photo via Visual Hunt

Sadie shivered as the eerie hoot of an owl echoed around her. “Mark my words,” her grandfather said as he helped her gather the wood in the growing darkness. “Someone in this house will die tonight.”

Sadie didn’t argue with him, though her father would have. Merrick Stonehammer didn’t put up with such nonsense. In the city where he came from, such things were foolish superstitions, and were relegated to tavern talk. Just about every belief the simple country folk he lived amongst now was “tavern talk” or “superstition.” Sadie thought her father a fool, but chose not to say anything. Merrick was also free with his fist if you lived in his household and spoke against him, especially if you were his wife and daughter.

Sadie and her grandfather carried the wood back into the house. Sadie glanced at her mother. Kai Stonehammer was pale and gaunt, other than the swelling in her abdomen where Sadie’s new sibling grew. Merrick didn’t seem to notice his wife’s distress. Or if he did, he didn’t care.

Sadie set the wood down next to the fireplace and went to her mother’s side. “Mother, is there anything I can do for you?” she asked softly.

“No Sadie. Go to your father. See what else he wants you to do,” Kai said, smiling.

Sadie reluctantly walked over to where her father sat at the table, drinking from a tankard. His face was flushed and his eyes were dull. Her heart sank. He was drunk, which meant even more trouble for them all.

“Father, Grandfather and I have brought in the wood as you asked. Is there anything else you would like me to do?” she asked, trying to stand out of reach.

“Come closer you stupid chit,” he said, slurring his words. “I can’t talk to you properly when you’re so far away.”

Sadie got closer and allowed her body to go limp. It was a good thing she did. He leaned back and kicked her, aiming for her stomach. She shifted slightly and he only hit her hip, but she still went flying.

“Merrick,” Kai cried, struggling to stand. Her father put a hand on her shoulder and she sat back down.

“That’s for going to your mother first, you useless little whore,” Merrick snarled. He stood and loomed over her. Sadie tried to get up but her leg wouldn’t support her weight. “Get up.”

“I can’t. I think you broke my leg,” Sadie said.

Merrick kicked her again, this time slamming into her ribs. Sadie felt something break then and she screamed. “That’s what you get for defying me. Get up.”

“Merrick, you broke her leg and you just broke some of her ribs,” her grandfather said. “She won’t be able to get up at all now.”

“Then she deserves to die,” Merrick said, preparing to kick her again.

A rush of anger filled Sadie. Her life meant nothing to him. Her mother’s life meant nothing to him. No one’s life meant anything to him. He would kill them all and move on to another woman, where he’d do the same thing to her.

A strength she didn’t know she had filled her. In spite of her pain, in spite of her injuries, she rose to her feet. She heard the gasps of her mother and grandfather. “You are an evil, sadistic, cruel bastard,” she said through gritted teeth. Tears of pain filled her eyes as she stalked towards her father. “You don’t deserve to live.”

“My last wife told me the same thing,” Merrick said with a smirk. “I cut her open from naval to breast. You think you frighten me?”

Sadie cast around for a weapon. She saw the axe where it sat up against the wall. She lunged over and grabbed it just as he tried to seize her. She whirled around and swung it at him with all her might, ignoring the agony in her ribs as she did so.

Merrick screamed as it struck his shoulder. Sadie didn’t stop. She continued swinging the axe until he was nothing more than a bloody mass on the floor. She panted, soaked in blood, unable to catch her breath.

She glanced over at her mother and grandfather, expecting to see fear and horror. Her grandfather was smiling. Kai looked relieved. “Well done, Sadie,” Kai said.

“The owl spoke true,” her grandfather said.

Wolf sister

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Photo via Visual Hunt

Helena scratched behind Aso’s ears as her father continued yelling. It’s okay, Aso. He’s going to wind down soon. He always does, Helena told the wolf through their telepathic bond.

His scent is different today, Wolf Sister. I do not like it, Aso replied. Her hackle were up and she was growling softly.

“Helena, I have decided you must marry,” her father said, turning his attention on his youngest daughter.

“I’m a Wolf Sister, Father,” Helena said. “I’m not allowed to marry.”

“That’s easy enough to resolve,” her father said. He smiled a cruel smile. “Your little bitch will be sent to the village tanner and turned into a pelt. She’ll make a fine rug for your new house.”

“You can’t do that,” Helena said. “You’ll destroy my mind if you do.”

“So? You’ll still be alive. You don’t need a mind to produce children,” her father said. “I’ve already explained that to the man I’ve chosen. He’s perfectly happy to hire someone to care for you.” He moved towards them with a rope in his hands.

Run, Wolf Sister, Aso said. She lunged forward and tore at Helena’s father’s leg. He yelled in pain as the wolf tore the muscles in his leg. He went down.

Helena dashed out the door, followed swiftly by her wolf. The two of them ran out of the town and headed for the one place that no one would follow them – Wolf Peak. The wolf packs roamed freely there, and many Wolf Sisters lived in the dens with their wolf partners as they preferred separation from humans.

She could hear shouting behind her. She glanced over her shoulder. Several of the Hunters had been mobilized along with the city guard. She recognized them because they were wearing the colors of the forest. We have to hurry, Aso. If they catch us, we both die.

The path is not far, and we two are the only ones who can find it, no matter how hard they seek, Aso said. She kept her stride even with Helena’s, even though she could easily outpace her human partner.

Helena ignored the stitch in her side. She wasn’t going to let anyone kill Aso. The two of them had been together since Helena was five. Wolves typically didn’t live long, but Wolf Sisters bestowed their lifespans on their partners. At twenty five, Helena was still fairly young by human standards and Aso was ancient by wolf standards.

The first arrow passed by her ear a few minutes later. It stuck in a tree at the edge of the forest as Helena and Aso entered it. Where is it, Aso? Where is the path? I can’t see it yet and they’re getting closer.

I can smell it, Wolf Sister, Aso said. Do not fear. We will be there soon. Helena cried out as an arrow pierced her left shoulder. She sobbed as she ripped it out, the barbed head doing more damage coming out than it had going in. Wolf Sister, we must stop. They cannot see your blood before the path or they will find it.

How much time before they are upon us? Helena asked as she stopped.

It will be several minutes. They have lost our trail, Aso said.

Helena’s hands were shaking, and her left hand was almost useless as she used her belt knife to cut several strips of fabric from her long tunic. She bound her shoulder as best as she could. Do you see any blood dripping from my shoulder? she asked.

Aso paced around her. No, but you cannot take the arrow with you. It will give us away.

I also can’t leave it here. If they have one of the Trackers among the Hunters, they’ll use their magic to find us. They’ll find the path that way as well, Helena said.

Keep running towards those large rocks and give me the arrow, Aso said. I will be with you again shortly. Helena did as she was told. Aso slipped deeper into the woods as Helena resumed her mad dash towards safety.

Aso caught up to her just before she hit the clearing where the rocks were. Where do we go from here? Helena asked.

Follow me and I will lead you to true freedom, Aso said. She surged ahead of her human sister. She ran into a gap between two very tall rocks and vanished.

Helena could still hear Aso inside her mind. The mountains were too far away, yet Wolf Sisters appeared in her town as if the mountain were only a short distance from it. She took a deep breath and plunged through the same gap.

She staggered a little as she passed through a magical gate. Cold air washed over her face. Hands caught her as her legs buckled under her. “Be easy, Wolf Sister. You are safe,” a gentle voice said.

Aso sat near her, panting from the exertion of running. She was surrounded by several other wolves. Helena looked up into the face of the woman who held her. Soft red curls fell over a badly scarred face. “Thank you,” Helena said.

She was taken to a cave where her wound was properly treated. She was given some clean clothes and food. Once she was feeling better, she and Aso began exploring their new home. They climbed to the top of one of the peaks and sat down. Helena stared out over the green forest below.

This is where we belong, Aso said. Not trapped in a cage.

I agree, Helena said, wrapping her arm around Aso. We are home.

The wandering way

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Photo via VisualHunt.com

A quick author’s note – a fit man can walk up to 96 miles in a twenty four hour period and elves in this world only need four hours of sleep, so keep that in mind when you see the numbers in this.

Sheridan sighed as he sat down on one of the many large white rocks along the edge of the path. He rubbed his calves. His traveling companion looked at him. “You grow tired, human. I thought you had the energy of an elf.”

It was the same joke as always. Sheridan rolled his eyes. “Your body outdoes mine every time, Rauvelore. You know that. Besides, we’ve also gone, what, forty miles already?”

Rauvelore chuckled. “Fifty three. Only seven more before we reach our destination. Surely you can last that long.”

Sheridan glanced at the sky. It was getting dark. “Let’s go. The sooner we get there the more sleep I get.” They set off again.

The last seven miles seemed to take an eternity, but finally they reached their next camping spot. Rauvelore got a fire going and Sheridan helped put up the tent. He filled his water bottle with the clear, fresh water.

Their meal was simple, and accompanied by a drink Rauvelore gave him that restored everything he’d lost during the day. It was both bitter and salty, so Sheridan chased it with water.

“You should go get some sleep, Sheridan. I will give you an extra hour since it is close to midnight,” Rauvelore said.

“Sounds good to me,” Sheridan said. “Good dreaming.”

Sheridan crawled into his tent and wrapped up in his sleeping bag. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. His dreams were haunted by the face of the woman he’d loved, the woman he’d killed by his own stupidity.

Emmi was everything Sheridan wanted in life. She wasn’t that pretty physically, but her soul was so vibrant it didn’t matter. It had been her laugh that attracted him to her in the first place. That and her high intelligence. The two of them met at a party and hit it off. She’d given him her number just before the night ended and he’d called her the next day and set up their first official date.

They’d been together three years when he proposed on Midsummer, a holiday the elves had taught the humans about when they emerged from their isolation. She accepted happily, jumping into his arms and kissing him quite thoroughly. They were so happy. She started planning the wedding, which was set for the following Midsummer.

The only blot on their happiness was his alcoholism. He’d started drinking when he was sixteen, a defense against his parents’ fights. It helped him go to sleep regardless of how loud they were. Then it helped him cope with the depression after his mother killed his father and went to jail for it. He was eighteen and didn’t need to go into foster care, but his two younger sisters did since the courts considered him an unfit guardian for them because of his age and financial status.

He continued drinking heavily as he got a job in the finance department of a local bank, went to college on their dime, and graduated with honors – all while drunk off his ass. He’d risen rapidly until – at twenty four – was named the youngest bank manager for a small, newly opened branch in West Virginia, which was where he met Emmi.

Emmi was forever trying to get him to quit drinking. He would try for her, but he kept going back to it when he had a rough time. Finally, one night, he was driving drunk though Emmi didn’t know. His reflexes were greatly reduced and when a car stopped suddenly in front of him he couldn’t stop in time. They slammed into the back of it at full speed. Emmi died instantly while Sheridan escaped with a few facial scars and a load of guilt that still weighed him down. He hadn’t taken a drop of alcohol since.

Rauvelore woke him the next morning, ignoring the dark circles and the haunted look in Sheridan’s eyes. They packed up and got back on the road. Four hours later, they reached a steep hill. “What I want you to see is at the top of this. It is not an easy climb,” Rauvelore said. “No human I have brought here has been able to get more than halfway up. Do you think you can get all the way to the top?”

Sheridan assessed the grade of the path. “I won’t know until I try.” They started climbing.

Sheridan reached the halfway point and wanted to stop. But he also didn’t want to be another failure for Rauvelore. So he kept quiet and continued to climb.

It took three hours to reach the top. By then, Sheridan was exhausted. Rauvelore waited for him to catch his breath before he gently took Sheridan’s shoulders and turned him. Sheridan stood straight and looked out over the countryside.

His jaw dropped. What he saw was a beautiful, hilly land with a long, white, curvy road winding between each hill. “What is this place?” Sheridan asked in a soft voice.

“This is the Long Road, something every Wanderer follows at least once in his life,” Rauvelore said, his voice equally as quiet. “He does not do it alone, though. He goes with a companion, a friend to keep him from feeling the weight of loneliness.” He paused. “I have tried to bring other elves here with me, but none of them have felt right. I am unique among my kind because I am more comfortable around humans. So I started bringing your kind with me. You are the first to reach this place.”

It took Sheridan a minute to process everything. “You consider me a friend?”

Rauvelore nodded. “I know your grief, Sheridan. I too lost a loved one to a terrible mistake.” He paused, his eyes the color of the ocean meeting Sheridan’s. “Will you walk the Long Road with me? To see what’s on the other end?”

Sheridan closed his eyes, thinking of everything held left behind to take up the life of a vagabond, following Rauvelore all over the world. They’d been together for the past three years, and the connection between them was very strong. Sheridan opened his eyes. “Yes, my friend. I will walk the Long Road with you.” Rauvelore smiled and the two of them took their first steps on a brand new adventure.

Snippet time! (Into the Flames reborn!)

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Photo via VisualHunt

I don’t have a lot of time this morning. I want to get a little writing time in before I have to go deal with fixing breakfast. So you get a snippet of a VERY rough draft of the newly reborn version of Into the Flames.

The new blurb (so far – I know it’s long, I’ll shrink it later):

Fifty  years ago, the Core struck the weakened Colonies and won a war that they’d started over their need to conquer. Now, the Colonies were ready to strike back.

The Eleven have decreed they need a spy to watch the Core, to make sure they see nothing as the colonies prepare for a new war, one the Core will never forget. Eire Rezouac, a man born to the Core but now Colony through and through, asks his eldest daughter Fiera to take up the challenge. She agrees.

Given a new name, wealth beyond what she could ever imagine to place her among those who would know the doings of the Assembly, and the chance to go to the most prestigious university in the solar system, she accepts the danger and heads into Bouarus, unaware that she will encounter the person behind the current animosity for the Colonies and have to match wits with her.

Kuen Nakano didn’t want to leave the private academy he was attending, but when his mother called him home, he couldn’t refuse. Born to the wealthiest house in the solar system, he knew nothing of the social caste he was a part of or how to live a life outside the rigid structure of the world he’d existed in since he was three years old.

Thrust into the chaotic world of politics, university life, and social maneuverings, he does not expect to encounter a fiery woman who challenges his beliefs, his intelligence, and his physical prowess. He wants to defeat her in the beginning, but as time goes on, he wants more. When war rears it’s ugly head, and he discovers the truth about the woman he loves, he risks everything to save her and will come face to face with his mother’s obsession.

Fiera sighed. “I don’t know if I can do this. I still have the colony accent. You and Jacin have been pounding that into me for the past month.” Jacin Andreasan, one of her father’s oldest friends and the second most powerful man in the colonies that wasn’t a core worlder, had joined them on Sorus three months earlier just for the sole purpose of making certain Fiera was ready for her mission.

It’s not that pronounced unless you get angry, and you’ve learned to compensate for it even then,” Eire said. “Stop stalling. The Lusitania will be boarding in just a few minutes.”

Fiera rubbed sweaty palms on the elegant lemon colored pantsuit she was wearing. “Are you sending anyone with me? I’m going to look odd without a servant.”

No, I’m not sending you with a servant,” Eire said. “I thought about it, but you don’t need another liability to be used against you. Besides, do you really want to treat another colonist the way you’d be forced to?”

Fiera thought of the way she’d seen the wealthy core worlders act with their servants and shook her head. “I couldn’t do it. The first time I tried hitting one I’d be on the floor next to them asking them if they were okay and telling them I was sorry.”

This is why I decided that going alone was the best option for you,” Eire said. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching them closely and squeezed her hand. “You’ll be fine, Fury.”

Fiera managed a smile at the use of her familiar nickname. It was probably going to be the last time she heard it from her father’s lips. Neither of them spoke of the possibility of Fiera being caught, of her being killed. It was an instant death sentence for a colonist if they were found impersonating a core worlder. They both knew the risk was there and the longer Fiera was on Bouarus, the likelier it was she’d get caught.

Fiera blinked back tears. This was something she’d agreed to knowing full well what her fate was most likely going to be. She reached up and fingered the pendant hanging just above her collarbone. It was the final gift her mother gave her before she left Sorus. “This won’t look out of place, as such exotic treasures are valued in the core,” Alena said as she fastened it around Fiera’s neck. “It is something of home, to remind you of us and to help keep you safe.”

It was a tiny figurine, carved by hand instead of by machine, of a strange bird. Even Fiera hadn’t known what it was until her mother told her it was a raven. “I’ve never heard of those before,” Fiera said as she put her luggage into the skimmer. “What planet are they from?”

It is said they came from our world of origin,” Alena said. “Some people thought of them as ill omens, while others saw them as tricksters. They were intelligent and wise, if you knew how to speak to one in the right fashion. Or so the story goes in my family.”

Your mother and I are very proud of you,” Eire whispered, drawing her attention back to the space station.

First call, all those boarding the G.S.S. Lusitania please make your way to gateway four,” a woman’s voice said over the public address system. A few people broke off from their groups and drifted in the general direction of the named gate.

You need to go,” Eire said. “Be a good girl and don’t look back.” Fiera took hold of the handle on her grav pallet and hesitated. “Don’t look back.”

Fiera closed her eyes for a moment and then took opened them again. She took a single step forward. Then another. Then another. She let herself get caught up in the flow of visitors to the station. She didn’t look back.

 

The heroes of the medical profession

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Photo via Visual Hunt

I know a lot of you hang around because of my little fiction drabbles – which aren’t always as short as I intend – but I’m going to talk about something else serious today. Then perhaps tomorrow the drabbles will resume. I want to talk to you today about the heroes of the ER – the nurses.

The first people on the scene when you get into the ER aren’t the doctors. They’re the nurses. They take your vital signs, listen to you as you explain your situation, clean up the blood and/or vomit and/or urine/feces as they listen, and note a general assessment in your chart. Then they go off to tell the doctor what’s going on.

They check on you regularly and if they think the doctor is being too slow in doing something for you, they’ll ride their ass until they come in and talk to you. Once that happens, treatment begins. But it isn’t the doctor who does the actual treatment. Once again, it’s the nurses. They’re the ones who stick the IVs into you, who put catheters in places you’re rather not have one, who console you when you hear about all the tests you’re going to have to go through, and administer any medications the doctor thinks you need right at that moment. They’re also the ones who try to make you feel better with a good bedside manner – which many ER doctors don’t have.

The nurses are the ones who check on you after you’ve returned from being wheeled out for getting x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or whatever tests you’re being given that will take you out of your spot in the ER. They’re the ones who keep you updated on what’s going on. And again, they’re the ones who push the doctor if they think they’re taking too long.

Of course, if the ER is really busy, you might not see your nurse as often as you’d like. But they will make sure you’re checked on, even if they have to beg one of their coworkers to check in on you. They want to be sure you’re safe, cared for, and as pain free as possible.

When the doctor gives their final diagnosis and comes up with a treatment plan, they’ll come in and give you the bare details and then leave. It’s the nurse who brings up the discharge plan and explains everything to you in detail, answers any questions you may have, gives you whatever warnings are needed, and wishes you well. The nurses are the ones who tell you if you have questions to call and if it gets worse to come back. The nurses are the ones who follow you to the door to make sure you’re well enough to leave, and if you can’t walk, they’ll get a wheelchair for you and take you out to your car.

Even outside the ER, nurses are the ones who do the bulk of the work. In a hospital setting, the nurses outside the ER do a lot of what the ER nurses do. In a doctor’s office, they’re the ones who take your vitals, ask you what’s going on, get notes for the doctor, and then they’e also the ones who administer any shots the doctor wants you to have and explains what the doctor wants you to have done if you have questions.

My brother is a trauma nurse. My ex-sister-in-law is a regular hospital nurse. I was a CNA for a few years, who are the right hands of nurses outside of the ER. Be nice to your nurses. For the most part, they genuinely care about you and want to make sure you’re healthy and happy by the end of your visit. And if that’s not going to be the case, they’re the ones who are there to grieve with you, to comfort you, and to show they care and want to ease your burden as much as possible as you go through this terrible time.

I’m not saying doctors don’t do anything. They do a lot. General practice doctors are a lot more hands on, and work hand in hand with their nurses. A lot of them keep their nurses in the room with them to be an extra pair of hands and to explain things when the doctor can’t. But in a hospital setting, doctors have very little time to deal with patients as they often have twenty other patients to attend to – oftentimes more. So they are stretched very thin. That’s why they rely on their nurses to get things done.

Nurses are heroes. Remember that. Nurses are heroes.

I love you Mom

Melissa Mom Alissa Maegan Shandra

(This picture contains my older sister Melissa – who passed away from cancer in 2016, my mom – who passed away from cancer in 2003, my niece Alissa – who is Melissa’s youngest daughter, my youngest sister Maegan – who is mentally disabled and will never be able to live on her own, and my niece Shandra – Melissa’s oldest daughter.)

My mom. I still have so many conflicting emotions about her. My childhood wasn’t great living with her, but those two years before her death were amazing, and those are the ones I’m choosing to focus on more and more often now. She was so excited about my Katie being born. She so desperately wanted to be there. But her doctor told her that wasn’t going to happen. She went from diagnosis to death in three weeks – stage 4 stomach cancer that would have been discovered if her asshole doctor had just listened to her instead of brushing her off, telling her to “get a hobby” and that she was “depressed.”

Today would have been my mom’s 78th birthday. I often think about how life would have been different if she’d survived her cancer. Would we have lost our kids? Would we have ended up living on the coast? Would I have tried to commit suicide in 2013? Would she have abandoned us if we had lost the kids like the rest of our families did at that point in our lives?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is “I don’t know.” I’ve been asked how I can love my mom after all she did to me. Well, I can honestly say my childhood wasn’t all bad. I do have a ton of happy memories from it too. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear growing up in my parents’ house, about whether my mom’s mental illness – though none of us knew anything about bipolar disorder back then – would cause me problems or not, but we had a lot of fun too.

Like cooking lessons. On her good days, those were a blast. She was teaching me how to make chocolate chip cookies and had to run to the bathroom. I was 10 I think. She told me when the timer went off I was supposed to pull the cookies out of the oven. Except she forgot to set the timer. I realized this and decided to help. I looked at the recipe, saw it said 10 minutes, and then set the timer – it was one of the ones where you twisted the dial past 10  and then you could sent the time. I watched the timer and when it dinged I pulled out the cookies.

They were burnt. I was horrified (and a little scared – mom’s nature being what it was back then) that I was going to get yelled at. Mom came out and looked at them, then looked at the timer. “I didn’t set the timer, did I?” I explained what I’d done. She just laughed and showed me how to do it properly. And that the recipe said 8 to 10 minutes and that 8 minutes was almost too much in our oven. She usually only put them in for 6. She threw away the burnt cookies and we carried on.

Then there were the camping trips. Oh the camping trips. My dad was a workaholic when I was growing up, but when he took his vacation in the summer, we did two things – went to visit my grandparents and went camping. My visits to my grandparents were never comfortable, but that’s for another post. Let’s talk camping.

I think being outdoors was soothing to my mom. She loved camping, going for picnics, going fishing, doing anything she could outside. On our camping trips, we’d go to one of our favorite campgrounds in two cars. Up until I was probably 14 or 15, dad would be driving the old pickup he bought in the late 60s packed full of our camping gear while mom brought me and my little sister in the second car behind him, along with spare gear, most of the food, and whatever else we thought we couldn’t live without.

She and dad would set up the tent, and once I was strong enough to help, I’d help pound in tent stakes. We’d get the canopy up over the table in case of rain. And when I was a kid, it rained a lot more than it does now in southern Idaho. At least it seemed to me it did because just about every single camping trip we got rained on.

We used an old gold pan (the type you use when you go panning for gold, not one made of gold) that had it’s bottom sealed as our wash basin. We washed dishes in it. We washed our hands and faces in it. Water was boiled, first on a charcoal grill we packed with us, and then on the Coleman gas grill we started carrying because it was lighter and cheaper to pack around. Cold water was added to make it easier to use for all of us.

Dad would cook, we would eat, mom and I would do the dishes, and then we’d all scatter to do whatever during the day – usually hiking or playing in the river. We always seemed to manage to snag the campground with the path right down to the water. It was my parents’ favorite spot.

At night, after dinner, we’d gather around the fire pit that dad would have lit before dinner, and tended while we ate. It would be just about right. We’d talk for a bit and then dad would break out the makeshift skewers that had been a part of our family for years – wire hangers he’d bent and twisted into long metal rods with a twisted ring and the end that we held. We’d roast marshmallows and talk and laugh. Maegan always took her marshmallows to my mom to eat, and mom would dutifully eat them. After four or five, she’d tell my sister she’d had enough and Maegan would give her skewer to dad, who burnt off the residue and set the skewer aside for the next night.

After thatwe’d light the lamps – kerosene with the little sock like burning wicks – and play cards, Yahtzee, and everything else we could think of. Then I’d read, mom would write (she’s the one who fed my interest in becoming an author), Maegan would be put to bed, and dad would do whatever it was dad did. Sometimes strum on his guitar, before his hands got too bad. Sometimes whittling. Sometimes just sitting back with his feet by the fire pit, watching me and mom.

Then there were the rare times we made it to the coast. Oh, the smiles on my mom’s face when we got to do that. I remember one time, I think I was still in Job Corps but I can’t place what I was doing or when exactly it was for sure – memories being what they are, but I do know it happened because my dad has pictures, we went to the coast while I was living in Washington.

Dad huddled in his windbreaker with the camera while mom, Maegan, and I ran down to the edge of the water. It was a gray, windy day with a light, misting rain. Pretty normal for the coast, actually. We laughed, dug for sand dollars, and just had a great time. Mom’s grin was the biggest as we held up our finds for my dad to take our pictures. She laughed, ran around with me and Maegan, and was so happy. I loved seeing her like that.

A friend of mine, right after mom’s funeral, offered to paint a portrait of my mom from any photograph I could send her (she lived in Australia at the time.) Dad picked one from that trip, with mom laughing and the wind in her hair. I sent it to her, and about 3 months later, we got a package back from Australia. Inside was the photo we’d sent, and an incredibly well done portrait of my mother laughing. My dad kept it up on the wall until he remarried. I’ve told him when he dies I want that picture. He’s agreed I can have it.

He knows I’m not the one most hurt by my mom. My older siblings got that. I’m nine years younger than my next oldest sister and there were three older than me. (It went Clayton – my brother, Melissa – who passed away last year, and Amy – the one who’s closest to me in age among my older siblings…and she’s the one who’s nine years older than me.) But he knows that I bore the brunt of things so my little sister, who wouldn’t have understood any of it, didn’t suffer what I was. He knew I took the abuse my mom would have put on her, which in turn made me a bit of a bully towards Maegan at times because I didn’t think it was fair I had to do this for her, but in the end my protective nature towards my little sister won out and I continued protecting her for as long as I could.

When I moved out for good (or so I thought), when I went to Washington, I was terrified. Not only homesick, but because I was still Maegan’s protector. But at that point I was so lost in my own life, I didn’t realize my mom was already changing. I didn’t know that she was already seeking help, that she’d been reading a lot and had found out that my diagnosis of bipolar (when I was 16 – I was 22 when I went to Washington) was quite possibly her problem too.

My dad told me she found someone who listened to her and started her on a string of medications that at first made it worse, but within six months, they’d gotten her cocktail right and she was a whole new person. She could laugh, live, love, and wasn’t afraid of hurting her children anymore. Unfortunately, cancer took her before we could get to know this new mom better.

The others said their goodbyes but I don’t know that they ever really forgave her. I know they didn’t say that they did, even though she asked them. I was the only one who said I forgave her, though at the time I didn’t know if I really did. I don’t know that I have completely yet, but I am learning to let go of the negative and remember the positive. More and more I’m remembering the laughing, happy woman from my past, and not the abuse I grew up with. My thoughts are no longer focused only on that.

So, once more –

I love you Mom. Happy birthday! I miss you every day.

Racing the Wind, Part 6

wedding-wed-girls

Photo via Visual Hunt

The skies were gray, but Angharad didn’t care. It had taken three long months but the day had finally come. Her mother fastened the lace covered gown and ran a brush through her daughter’s golden curls.

“You look beautiful, Angharad,” Lady Moirea said. “I think this is the first time I have seen you in anything so fine.”

“Yes, and unless my husband insists I go to court I won’t wear anything like this again,” Angharad said. “This is too easily damaged.”

“You are too rough and wild,” Lady Moirea said. “Your father did you no favors by letting you run free.”

“Mother, you’ve been saying that for years. Nothing will change the past, and I now have a husband who loves me for my spirit and will let me be who I am,” Angharad said. She turned and smiled at her mother. “You’re a wonderful chatelaine and absolutely brilliant when it comes to solving problems for the tenant farmers. I can only hope that, when the time comes, Eridan and I will be able to do half as good as you and father.”

Lady Moirea laughed and hugged her daughter, keeping an eye on the dress. “You two will rule in your own way, and do a good job. You work well together and know how to compromise, though sometimes you don’t right now.”

Angharad smiled ruefully. She and Eridan had their fair share of arguments over the past few months, mostly because both were equally as stubborn and when one got an idea in their head they didn’t want to give it up.

There was a knock on the door. Lord Idwal poked his head in. “Moirea, I need Angharad. She has one last custom she must fulfill before the ceremony. Eridan is already outside.”

“What does she have to do?” Moirea asked, puzzled.

“The Heir’s Climb,” Angharad said.

“Not the pyre,” Moirea said, her face aghast. “She’ll destroy her dress and injure herself. She could die.”

“If I’m careful I won’t,” Angharad said. “I can do this, Mother.” Lady Moirea still looked doubtful but followed when Idwal led his daughter out of the room.

Eridan stood not far from the huge pile of wood. “Your father told me about the custom. Are you sure you can do this?” he asked.

“It’s not as hard as it looks,” Angharad said. “I’ve scaled this thing dozens of times, even though I wasn’t supposed to. I knew my day would come and I wanted to be prepared.”

“Yes, but you weren’t constricted by a gown with a long, flowing skirt,” Eridan said. He gripped Angharad’s shoulders. “Please don’t make me watch another person I care about burn to death.” This was whispered in her ear.

“I won’t,” Angharad promised.

Angharad joined her father at the edge of the towering pile of wood. “Are you ready for this?” Lord Idwal asked in a low voice. Angharad just shrugged. Lord Idwal cleared his throat. “Angharad, daughter of Idwal, granddaughter of Oran, it is time to take your place as the inheritor of these lands.” He handed her a lit torch. “Climb as high as you can and light the fire.”

Angharad stared at the oil soaked wood. She looked down at her skirt and train. She reached down and looped the delicate lace over the arm that wasn’t on the side with the torch and began to climb.

Eridan had been right. It was much harder with the dress than her usual outfit. She didn’t get very far up before she realized if she went any higher she would tear something. She paused and then dropped her skirt. She let everything flow around her. “I am Angharad, daughter of Idwal, granddaughter of Oran. I claim Heir’s Rights as proclaimed by the ancient Laws of Blood.” She took a deep breath and hurled the torch as high as she could. It struck the wood and lit it immediately.

Angharad grabbed her skirt again and started climbing down. She moved as fast as she could, but between her gown and her more fragile shoes she was slowed more than she’d expected. She felt the heat as it got closer. She looked up and saw the flames were crawling closer to her outstretched hand.

She increased her speed, trying not to tangle herself in her skirt. Though she hadn’t climbed as high as she’d planned, the branches snagged at the fabric and she had to work it loose. It was slowing her descent just enough that the fire was catching up to her. The roar was drowning out everything below her.

She paused to untangle her skirt for the hundredth time when her upper hand erupted in pain. She screamed and yanked it down, forgetting her skirt in an attempt to brace herself. Her hand was badly burned. It wouldn’t hold her weight anymore.

She looked up. The flames were coming for her like an eager monster seeking to devour her. She glanced down, saw Eridan’s stricken face, the horror on her mother’s, the glee on her brother’s, the pain on her father’s. She gauged the distance to the ground. Taking a deep breath she let go of the wood and jumped.

She struck the ground and rolled. Eridan was at her side in a moment. “Angharad, Angharad, answer me,” he said.

Angharad dragged herself to her feet. “I’m alive,” she said, holding her hand against her chest. She took a moment to assess the rest of the damage to her body. “I’ve been burned badly, and I’ll be a lovely shade of purple in several places, but that’s it,” she said, leaning against Eridan as he held her.

“Let me see the hand,” the house mage said. Angharad held it out while Eridan only shifted his position enough to let her do it. The mage held his hands over it and muttered some strange words under his breath. The pain faded and as she watched the angry red color vanished. The blisters sank back into her skin, though they left behind terrible scarring. When the mage pulled his hands back, the only sign of the burn was the severe scars. “I can’t get rid of the scars. You’re stuck with them for life. But now the wedding can continue as planned.”

“After that fall? Angharad needs to rest. We have to postpone the ceremony until tomorrow,” Lady Moirea protested.

“If we do that, she’ll have to do this again,” Lord Idwal said. “She might not survive.”

“I’m fine, Mother,” Angharad said. “I want to go through with this.”

“All right,” Lady Moirea said.

Eridan wrapped one arm around her waist and held out his other so she could brace herself on it. “You’re hurt worse than you’re saying,” he whispered.

“I am, but as father says, I’d have to do this tomorrow and I don’t want to risk my life two days in a row,” Angharad said.

“Then let’s get this over with so I can get you to the healers,” Eridan said.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Angharad said. She rested most of her weight on her almost-husband and smiled. The gods had finally answered her prayers, though they’d tried to claim her life as their payment. Life with her beloved would be interesting, but it would definitely be worth every moment.