Delusions of grandeur

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Brett Myers challenged me with “Once I touch it, there’s no going back.” and I challenged Bewildered Bug with “One is the loneliest number.”

Looking out through the glinting sands, I stopped, unable to contain the creeping doubt another second. Digging into my pocket to pull out the digital compass, I squinted into the sun. Yes, this was the right way. I sighed, wiped my brow and trudged on.

There was nothing to see except hill after hill of sand. I could see myself as if from above, as an eagle would see me, or worse, as a vulture watching in wait. I would look no more significant than a lizard, I thought. Or perhaps like an ant to a human? Or, I continued with the line of thinking, maybe even as small as the inside of a cell. What am I after all, I mused, than a small colony of cells?

Which of course was why they wanted me on this journey. Surely they wouldn’t let me die out here? I, human – one of the last in the land – and they so in need of a coorperative, live specimen. I knew it was a dangerous idea to try and work with them, but I reasoned that billions of people had already tried to fight. The small pockets of life left on the planet remained resistant.

It hadn’t been hard to pack, or get away. Nobody much seemed to notice my presence anyway. Not since Dayna.

It wasn’t my fault, I said again to myself. As if someone were listening. Watching. Maybe even waiting. Well, they were supposed to be waiting, weren’t they?

Where the bloody hell are they? I played in my mind the scene where they would appear. I’d run toward them, hands outstretched. I knew that once we touched, there would be no turning back. I’ll be forever theirs. A sample. An outsider that will never belong.

Outcast to humans too. Not that it mattered. None of it mattered. Not any more…….

Dayna. It really wasn’t my fault! Her face flashed in a collage of images. Smiling sweetly, posing for a photograph in the sun by the sea – before they’d come. Her morning face, flushed from sleep and crumpled from the pillow. Her blood stained skull, and a gaping hole where her cheek used to be.

I gripped the GPS tighter in my pocket and grit my teeth. Why hadn’t anyone listened? It all just seems so unfair. Well I’ll show them. I’ll show them all. I’m going to be a god. Spread my seed and cells from one end of space to another. It will be mine. And then we’ll see who you want to talk to.

I’ll be the KING of this land. I’ll be the creator. Thor of thunder! Titan of the sea. You’ll see. You’ll see me and weep. All of you.

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Savour the last dance for me

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Jay Andrew Allen challenged me with “It was the best of times…but not for long.” and I challenged Brett Myers with “Maybe I could sing you to sleep…pull the curtains, put down your beer and cigarette.”

Stubbing out his cigarette, Felix stood and smoothed down his suit. He’d sat and watched the others fumble, and he’d given them their chance to impress the newcomer, but enough was enough. He didn’t want her to leave with nothing but a laughable story of men from Santiago de Cuba.

He smiled and took long strides toward her. He caressed her with his eyes – appreciating the curve of her neck, and the way her white skin glowed through the hazy smoke filled room. The light danced over her hair but got lost in its wilderness, he thought. The dark depths appeared too impenetrably glossy. For a moment, he hesitated, something about this woman gave out such strength and valor that it seemed to answer a question he wasn’t aware he wished to ask. But it was only a moment, and quickly his natural ease returned, his smile radiating his intentions and his eyes innuendo.

“Hola, mi nombre es Felix. ¿Se interesa a bailar?” he said, grasping her hand with a mix of firm insistence and gentle persuasion. He’d not met a woman yet who had refused him. It was his inheritance – this way with the opposite sex. Sometimes it was also a curse – there was always temptation surrounding him. Urging him on. But he did admit to himself, it was a curse he could live with. He lived for this kind of moment – electric.

Her eyes lifted to his below lustrous lashes, and her red rouged lips curved into a gracious smile. He noted a dimple in her left cheek – but he did not ask her for a name. The band slowed to a familiar and slow rhythm perfect for the kind of dance he had in mind – lambada zouk.

She stood, and once more he allowed his eyes to travel her form. He knew she could dance – better than any woman here. So he took her hand, pulled her close from a spin, and let his grip guide her.

Her scent filled his lungs as their bodies glided over the floor. There was no resistance within her fluid movement, his every instruction – from the roll of his hand on her back to the gentle pausing fingertip – met with a corresponding roll of the hips, or rock in rhythm. He’d never met a partner he could guide with such grace. He closed his eyes, and allowed his senses to flood.

Her breath over his skin. The flash of the lights warm over his eyelids. Her silken skin dewy in the humid air. They rocked together, and he was far away, in love with the night. In love with life, and all its possibility.

Suddenly, beneath his fingertips, he felt her grow rigid. It broke his reverie, and he opened his eyes. Standing before him, hands folded across his chest, stood a solid looking man in a suit. His eyes flashed then grew cold. Distant. Did he want to fight?

He dropped his grip on the girl, and she hung her head as the suited man squeezed her forearm. Felix took a step back, surveying the crowd, who, sensing danger, had begun to move toward the outer reaches of the bar and eye this new stranger with trepidation.

Felix smiled, and spoke in English. “No harm done. Have a good night,” he said. The girl turned so he could see her face. Her eyes implored him. Gone was the strength he had seen in her. She now appeared as though she were nothing more than a young girl, or a bird. Yes, he thought. A bird, but one without flight feathers. A bird in a solid cage.

He smiled at her. Then he walked past the couple, threw money from his pocket toward the bar, and headed for the inky blackness of the door. He was not followed, and as he stepped out into the street, he tried to capture the beauty he had felt only moments earlier. His appetite aroused, he headed toward another bar. There would be another girl, he was sure.

Picture it and write – Gilded lily

Like birds, the words flew away

She had been forced to hurry. First light had broken half an hour ago, and while she’d dressed as fast as she could, the corset had refused to buckle. Her shaking hands had struggled, but she had not dared to ask even a maid for help – for fear of alerting the farm of her intentions.

Now, with a few slices of cake in her petticoats, and the dreaded court transcript in her hand, she stole out into the light, careful to keep her bonnet down low. The crispness of the air smacked her skin, and cooled her cheeks into ruddy apples. A dog stirred on its chain. She smiled, scooped down low and cooed in a soft voice – and he did not bark.

As soon as she was out the gate she felt freedom push her forwards. She hurried along the trail toward the old elm forest, looking carefully over her shoulders. She didn’t allow her eyes to pause – searching in every shadow, every slip of light an ever present danger.

Gunfire, only too recent a memory. The flash of gold. Red, warmth and love flowing freely. Her tears, his protestations. Police and chains. The recollection filled her with adrenalin, and rather than allow the fear to stop her, she ran. She ran toward her lover.

Ahead she saw the spot. She turned her head, looking for his outline. Of course he wouldn’t wait out in the open.
“Why has this fear spread over every moment now?” she questioned. It was a cancerous rust filling holes in their teeth. It made them whisper. Plan. She gripped the transcript tighter to her chest. “Nothing is more important,” she said.

A twig broke and she snapped her head to the side. She still could not see his form in the silhouettes. Instead, a book lay on the heather. It was obviously meant to be read. A feather stuck out of the top. She bent down to inspect it closely.

The leather glowed, and the gilded title urged her to open it.

She gasped, and stood up with a start.

“Yahooo!” she squealed, spinning in a circle, kissing the book and throwing that dirty life wrecking transcript into the air. She lowered the book to reveal a wide smile. With her fingertips, she traced the large, hand inked words covering the text of the book, as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“I’m free!” the black ink proclaimed. She need not hide, nor run. But looking around at the forest and wiping away the salt from her eyes with her sleeve – she knew that it was far from truly over.

Ermiliablog is the wonderful creator of  Picture it & write – join in the fun!

Someone Like You – Listen & Write Entry

This entry is inspired by the wonderful Ermilia blog, who never ceases to provide quality prompts and entertaining ideas.

Now that she saw him at the bar, smiling and laughing so easily amongst friends, those soft hands of his cupped around the glass, with what Marian now thought was an unparalleled tenderness, (one she’d relived on too many late nights) she suddenly felt foolish to be here.

Her stomach lurched when he turned, sending a bilious vacuum to her mouth at the thought he might catch a glimpse of her. She licked her lips but found her tongue alien, clogged in gloss.

“Whisky,” she thought. Letting go of the table to walk she wobbled, and had to steady herself. Her heart pumped embarrassingly loud in her temples; flushing her face and fishing her hands damp.

‘Why was he still so reliable? So dependable?’ she shook her head. Here, at the same haunt she’d avoided all this time. ‘Why was it so easy to track him down again?’ Gazing at him now, she could see the chasm of her creation gaping between where she stood and he laughed.

“I’m tired of this, of you,” she’d spat that night, using her eyes to pierce his heart while her words pealed away in a stem of thorns. “Can’t you just…be different, can’t we DO something different?” she had screamed, hands raised in the air and not for the first time, she watched him recoil aghast at her fury. Strangers walked around them, pretending not to see or hear, a fact he would later recount with humiliation.

Sparkling gems and diamond stones piled solidly in her youthful hands and she’d only noticed the dust they created.

She inhaled sharply and held her breath, pushing down her fears, her emergent tears, and the swelling of regrets and mistakes that threatened to convince her to flee rather than face him. She could not afford the flight.

Another breath and she forced oxygen to her desperate striding limbs and light into her false smile.

One more intake and she was there, the familiar heady cologne rioting through her body in a bittersweet rush of long kisses and warm embraces, golden in the sun and open to the sky.

“Oliver?” she said quietly, patting him on the elbow.

He turned, his smile fading to resemble a startled bird on the footpath, distended in the traffic of shuffling feet, powerless and hurt.

With every syllable in greeting she stretched her warmth and love for him out in a cloak – the fabric of her soul – that she longed to wrap him in and sooth away the past. Yet the words came out empty, unfulfilled nothings of meaningless chatter.

“How amazing to see you here,” she smiled an attempt at breeziness.
“My friends just left and I thought I spied you in the crowd. Do you have time for a drink?” She hoped that he didn’t notice her cracking voice.

“Marian,” he said in reply after a dazed pause. “Marian.” His shoulders slumped forward on the second utterance, and his eyes appeared to have trouble focusing. He shook his head a little at a thought he seemed to have and lifted those gentle fingertips to squeeze his temples and smooth down his face.

Another breath. She blustered on.
“You look wonderfully well. I heard that you’ve settled down, and married now?”

Hijinks – Chapter One

This is the first chapter of a novel that I have been working on in the genre of young adult romance. Your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated. I intended to complete the book as part of NaNoWriMo, but this month has been so busy (my husband just did a 100km hike for Oxfam!) that it’s been difficult to get writing time in lately. So instead I am aiming to finish it by the end of January, and I’ll share it with you as it takes shape.

Chapter One

Tiare steadied herself on the back rail of the chair and sat down as the old ferry rocked back and forth on the harbor.  She watched as tourists scrambled for the best seats around the perimeter of the boat – already posing for photographs against the backdrop of the glass and steel skyscrapers on the island across the water.  The boatswain unfurled a giant hemp rope curled on a steel post jutting from the dock, and the smell of diesel floated through the air on the sea mist as the ferry lurched forward.

She looked out toward the horizon wondering what her friends back home were doing now.  Thursday, 4 p.m. Olivia was probably at Bailey’s house, she thought. Doing homework or listening to music.  Or maybe they would be talking about the blue light disco that she would be missing out on now that she had moved country to Hong Kong.  Thinking about them made her homesick and lonely.  Here she was, surrounded by people, but she didn’t know a soul.

“Enough of that gloomy thinking,” she heard her mother’s sparkly voice repeating itself in her head. “You’ll make friends soon, and think of what wonderful experiences you can have in the meantime. Get up, get off the couch and discover your neighbourhood,” she had said, pulling her off the sofa and handing her a map.

So here she was. She knew her mother meant well, and it was hard on her to move so often too. They’d both been happy in Queensland – going to the beach in the afternoons, swimming in crystal clear waters that were often home to pods of dolphins and fairy penguins. In winter they’d gone to see movies, or shopping in the mall. They’d had a lot of fun together.

She remembered the day her dad had come home to announce another move.  His eyes had shone at dinnertime and he’d had a cheeky look on his face. He’d tapped a glass with his fork. “I have an announcement,” he’d started, waiting until his wife and daughter put down their utensils and looked at him intently. “I’ve received a promotion to be the cultural ambassador of Australia, based in Hong Kong,” he had said, beaming from ear to ear.

The mother and daughter had looked at each other. The mother had smiled from ear to ear, but in her eyes something slightly forced, and caring was evident. She was gauging her daughter’s response, as was the father  – whose eyes hadn’t left her general direction since he’d started talking.  “Congratulations Dad,” she’d said, mustering all the enthusiasm she could into her voice.  “That’s great news.”

Tiare closed her eyes. She didn’t want to think more about the two months that had passed since that day. Saying goodbye to her friends, telling her school teachers she’d be leaving (again) and the long process of packing up her belongings.  She shook her head, as if shaking off a thought; took a deep breath and opened her eyes.  The ferry began the process of docking at Central and she stood to get ahead of the crowd so she could be one of the first off the boat onto land.

Standing high on the pedestrian overpass surrounded by the tallest skyscrapers she had ever seen, Tiare took off her backpack and fumbled inside for the map her mother had given her.  Spreading it out over the steel ledge, with a backdrop of a construction site and a giant working crane, she took in the street names and locations.  Pedder Street, Queens Road, Connaught Road, Stanley Street, Wellington Street…she didn’t know any of these names. Hollywood Road, she read. At least that name sounded familiar, she thought, and packed up her map to head in that direction. Maybe there would be Chinese movie stars there?

The overpass was crowded with people heading toward different destinations. She watched as an Indian couple walked by, dressed in traditional clothes. She had on a sari, long pants down to her ankles and a swathe of silk covered in sequins and jewel-like pearls that swirled in a riot of pretty colours and patterns.  The skin near her ribs was exposed, and the red tick on the lady’s forehead held Tiare’s gaze for more than a moment, but they quickly passed by in the opposite direction, before she had even had a chance to take in the man’s appearance.

No sooner than they’d gone, than she saw a beautiful Asian lady dressed in a tailored pair of slacks, looking elegant, slim and tall.  Tiare’s eyes followed her long shape, so different to her own rounder form, the start of a womanly curve.  As she continued to walk, she saw a man sitting on the edge of the path, with only half a leg, no teeth, and one stubbly arm poking out of his shirt.  He was also very different to her, and not nearly as lucky. Before him sat a steel bowl, and passersby threw in coins. She reached into her pocket and stooped down to make a donation too.

He smiled at her, a big, gummy smile, which made her feel both warm and strangely scared.

She hurried on.  The path continued past an Apple store, where she could see hundreds of people shopping for the latest iPhone,  before coming  to an intersection. Looking up to the signs, she followed the arrows that said “Escalator”. She had heard about this escalator – the largest of its kind in the world. Looking up at the mountains that could be seen from behind the sky-scrapers, she was glad that she wasn’t going to have to walk those steep looking hills.

Looking ahead, the entire path was flanked on either side by groups of dark haired women, sitting on cardboard boxes, sheets and newspapers, like they were in a little temporary city of their own.  Some of them had tied the box edges together to create a wall around their group – 5 people here, 10 people there and further along one very large group playing bingo were also walled in.  She could hear a language she didn’t understand as she walked past, and looking down could see home-cooked food that she didn’t recognise.

What were they doing there? she thought. Was this some kind of peaceful protest?  Further along she heard some of the seated women speaking in English.

“So I said to her, that’s just too funny..” a woman was laughing, loudly, the group also smiling at her story.
Tiare interrupted. “Excuse me,” she said, stooping down so as to be at the same height as the seated women. “Can you tell me why all the people are gathered here?”
“Oh you don’t know?” said one of the ladies wide eyed. “It’s our day off. We are domestic helpers from the Philippines,” she said, running her finger under her chin to adjust her pretty white head scarf.
“Yes, we come here to enjoy each other’s company on our day off,” said another lady, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, her long black hair blowing in the breeze she created by  fanning herself with a Christian pamphlet.
“Oh, I see,” she said, smiling at their friendliness.
“Would you like a sweet?” the lady in the headscarf offered a container with pink and white jelly-like treats.  She was about to refuse when she remembered her mother’s lecture on trying new things, and doing new things to ‘get the most out of life’.
“Oh thank you!” she said instead, and picked a pink one. She slid it into her mouth, and could taste coconut, rice, and roses in a soft custard-like texture.  “Wow that’s delicious,” she said. “Thank you!” She reached into her backpack and pulled out a tiny Koala bear that she’d picked up at the airport.  “This is for you,” she said. The ladies smiled in astonishment. Their heads grouped together over the souvenir.
“Oh it’s so cute!” one exclaimed.
“Look, it clips on!” said another, opening its little furry arms to attach it to her shirt.
“It was nice to meet you,” Tiare said, getting the urge to continue along her journey. “Enjoy the rest of your day off!” she said, standing up and swivelling her backpack over her shoulders, and wiping her slightly dusty, sticky hands on her jeans.

They smiled at her and waved as she left. She smiled the biggest smile she had felt since she arrived in the country, but walking further along her mind filled with questions. Why did the women choose the footpath to meet? Why were there so many domestic helpers in Hong Kong? What do they actually do? It puzzled her to think that life could be so different for so many people, right here in the same town.  She realised she had a lot to learn about this new place if she was going to understand it.  If she even wanted to understand that is.

She still wasn’t sure if she was going to stay, after all. She had told her parents she would try it out for 3 months, and they’d agreed if she really didn’t like it, she could go back to Australia and stay with her grandmother, and finish school there.

So far, she had been very bored at home.  Their new house wasn’t nearly as large as the one they’d had in Australia. They didn’t even have a back yard to play in, or a garden.  In fact, you couldn’t really even call what they now lived in a house, really.  They still each had bedrooms of their own – her brother Calum, and her – but they were perched up high in the 37th floor of a green tower.

Her dad had spoken about the new home as if it were the height of luxury.
“It’s ultra-modern, and has a club house, a pool and Jacuzzi, a private gym,” he had said, emphasising the word private.  Secretly she had thought she might even like to go to the gym, and try doing some of the exercises she had watched on Youtube – the ones that made thighs longer and leaner.  Then she had gone into the gym and discovered that it wasn’t private at all. In fact, anyone in the entire apartment block could go there at any time.  The same deal with the pool, which all but shot down her hopes of ever going there. There was no way she was going to be caught dead in a swimsuit when all her neighbours could see her.

She hadn’t always been so self conscious, but lately her body had been changing in ways that made her feel like wearing baggy t-shirts. She’d started wearing a bra a few years ago, but these days, her body just felt even more alien to her than it had then.  It was like she was transforming into a woman, but she really wasn’t ready for that change.  So she just ignored it happening, and tried to draw as little attention to (what felt to her like) bulging hips.

She’d also discovered that her dad’s description of the house itself felt like a sales pitch more aligned with a used car salesman than someone she loved and trusted. Living on the mainland China side, it did have a lovely view of Victoria Harbour from the windows in the loungeroom, and she liked being able to watch the lights come on across the water looking out to the island of Hong Kong at night. She did enjoy the way the reflections shone across the currents and eddies, in a ripple of rainbows.  She also liked the light show that came on every evening at 8 p.m. – the biggest light show in the world, the guidebook had said. It had become a handy way to tell the time. Suddenly all the thousands of buildings across the harbour in the Central business district would light up and flash in a perfectly timed performance,  as would those down the shoreline on the mainland side in the Tsim Sha Tsui area where busloads of Chinese tourists would flock to watch.

She had gone to watch it too, but now was happy to see it from their loungeroom.  So it did have some plusses, but on the whole, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as home was. And her father’s description of the size of the rooms in particular was very exaggerated.  She felt at times like she was in nothing more than a cubby house.  Her wardrobe was half the size of what it had been at home, and there was no room for anything else already.  Their kitchen was so small that if two people were in it at the same time, they bumped into each other.  She thought of a saying she had heard someone back home say.

“There’s not enough room to swing a cat.” And there wasn’t. Not that she would ever like to swing a cat anyway.

She sighed to herself, and wondered if she would ever really like this place her parents seemed so excited about.

She continued to walk along the pedestrian overpass, noticing little shops selling Chinese gifts, a tailor selling Scottish kilts and lots of intricate artwork covering the walls in designs of birds, plants, fish and other worldly creatures.  She stopped to admire a picture of a cat smoking a large pipe.  At home, this kind of artwork was quickly covered over with graffiti tags, she thought. Here it looked untouched, and a little note from the artist asked the community to respect it. Maybe they did? It really added some character to the walls, she thought.  She admired the creativity.

The elevated sidewalk had now entered an entirely new area. She was no longer above a major highway, but little alleyways with hundreds of signs jutting out from the buildings advertising everything from handbags, tailors , food to who-knows-what in jaunty Chinese script that she couldn’t read. It was as though the signs were over-excited pre-school children that had learned new tricks and were desperate for her attention so that they could show off.  Each sign tried to jostle into prime position in front of her eyes. Each one tried to outdo the other in colour, style, shape.  Each puffed out its chest and jumped on the spot saying ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ she thought. She was amazed at how crammed together the buildings seemed, even more stuck together than the Lego-land cities her brother built, and even more fake looking. Yet they were real.

The escalator could be seen ahead, rolling up the steep gradient until it disappeared like a long black snake sliding off into the grass. She hopped on, holding on to the rail tightly and watching as shop window after shop window passed by.  Inside one she could see feet sticking out, resting on pillows in a long row, being massaged by attentive ladies in uniform. She couldn’t see the bodies the feet were attached to as they were covered by a curtain, and  she laughed to herself imagining tired feet taking themselves off to the salon for massages and nail polishes, without their bodies.

Another shop showed a children’s party in full swing. Balloons festooned the room, and children chased one another around a table, whistles in their mouths.  In yet another, she could see adults painting, one creating a sunny landscape while another was drawing a smiling cat. She’d like to go to that shop, she thought.

Dresses, shoes, handbags, sportswear…she continued to float past the shops as if by magic, transported by the marvellous escalator.  She was so entranced by a traditional building, that had old gold and green ceramic dragons across its facade, and happy looking red lanterns on every light fitting,  that she almost missed her stop and continued up the escalator, but just in time she saw the sign for Hollywood Road.

Stepping out onto the ground at last the heat rose up to kiss her cheeks. Tiny beads of sweat gathered on her brow, and she could smell a fragrant mix of spices coming from a nearby restaurant.  She wasn’t hungry, but the smell made her curious.  She carefully walked along the narrow path, stopping at a tiny table that held tester hand crèmes in lavender and mint, where she paused while slipping one oiled hand over the other and getting a sense of where she stood, enjoying the luxurious scents rising from her hands.

To the left, the hill slid away into what looked like a restaurant and eatery section of the road. To the right, she could see red lanterns bobbing in the breeze under the street lamps, and curious sculptures of tigers and mythological dogs standing in front of ancient looking stores.  Straight ahead, a narrow laneway disappeared into a haze of wafting smoke. She decided to cross the road and see what the laneway held.

Standing at the top of the concrete stairwell she looked down the steep cobblestone lane to see a small temple with coiled incense burning slowly. Curious, she took one step closer, then another, revealing a square altar painted in the brightest red she’d ever seen, brighter than a fire engine and richer in colour than a mid-summer rose.  Sitting on the altar, delicious looking apples, peaches, oranges and pomegranates were arranged in pyramids of three, six and nine, flounced by gorgeous chrysanthemum flowers in bright yellow. In the middle, a female deity statue held a scroll in one hand, and a ribbon in the other.

“Ahhh, you’ve come at last,” a voice behind her said, startling Tiare, and making her jump.
“Oh, hello. Umm, yes. I just saw this from across the street and I,” Tiare explained quickly, backing away from the altar she had been inspecting so closely.
“You’ve come to make an offering to the deity of good fortune,” interrupted the old lady, her wrinkled face breaking out into a welcoming smile. “Good girl. Well let me help you.”
Tiare felt a bit uncomfortable and anxious. What did ‘You’ve come at last’ mean? As if this lady had been waiting for her? How silly, she thought. Maybe she had misheard her. Also, she really hadn’t come to make an offering, and really was only curious. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try it, she thought. What’s to lose?
“What year were you born missy?” the old lady asked, rummaging through a drawer and pulling out a selection of cardboard animals.


“No, on second thoughts, don’t tell me. Let me guess. Hmmm…” she said, peering closely at the girl.
Tiare stood still and let the old lady inspect her. She stood up tall, her dark hair falling in soft waves around her face prettily, framing her cheekbones and accentuating the deep V shape of her chin. The wizened woman took a step closer and brought her wrinkled old hand up to touch the soft skin of Tiare’s almost 18 year old face. She pinched her cheek lightly, but for some reason, all fear and trepidation had been replaced by a deep sense of trust for the old woman.
“Let me see your eyes..” she requested. Tiare complied, opening her gold flecked green eyes wide and allowing the woman to peer into them, so close she’d have been able to see the smattering of distinct freckles that danced across her face.
“Well, there’s no doubt about it m’dear. You’re a Dragon if ever I’ve seen one,” the lady said. “1997 right?”
Tiare gasped involuntarily. How did she get it right?
“Aha! Just as I thought,” the lady continued, not noticing that she’d neither confirmed nor denied her  suggestion.  “Yes, I can tell. You’re flamboyant in your own way. You’re charming. You have a certain enigma about you that draws others in.”

Tiare smiled. Maybe that was true.

“Well this year is sure going to be an interesting one for you. Your year, the  Dragon year is coming don’t you know? You’ll have a good year. Generally, the Dragon year will be your best. BUT…” she said, rummaging through a drawer and pulling out a gold and red striped paper Dragon. “You’ll need to be careful of a few things too. You have to be careful not to be too emotional, as that may eventually hurt you because it will impact your relationships. You have to be careful not to be too stubborn, or that may eventually go against you. Lastly, you have to make the most of your opportunities, or else your luck might turn for the worse, “the old lady paused, and jiggled the Dragon in her hand. “Shall we burn this Dragon to the deity of good fortune so that she might smile on you through your challenges?” she asked, looking at the girl expectantly.
Tiare had a lot to take in. Some of what the old lady said resonated with her. In fact, it could have been her mum or dad talking, but hearing the words from this temple attendant, here in a strange new place, gave her something further to think about. Maybe her challenges were not hers alone, but actually a part of a larger picture? She thought. Perhaps many others faced these challenges – because they too were headstrong, creative, emotional, and passionate individuals. Maybe it had something to do with being a Dragon after all? She thought about how she had fought with her parents about the move to Hong Kong, and how emotional she had been at leaving her friends.  She thought about how stubborn she had been even very recently, because she was still angry about moving. It was weird that this lady had mentioned these things straight away.
“What do you say?” the lady asked expectantly, her eyes sparkling, and her words breaking through the swirl of thoughts that raced through the girl’s head.
“Oh, umm, yes,” Tiare answered. “Yes, I’d like that., ” she repeated, with more enthusiasm.
“Good girl,” the old lady smiled. “That will be fifty Hong Kong dollars please,” she added, turning her back and taking the paper Dragon toward the altar.
Tiare hadn’t expected to pay for anything at a temple, and took a moment to process that detail.  She’d been warned about getting ‘ripped off’ by ‘unscrupulous operators’ by her dad so many times that she felt sure she would meet one sooner than later. So she did a quick calculation in her head, and worked out that that the lady was asking for about 6 Australian dollars, less than it cost for a ham and salad sandwich at the school canteen.
“Sure, ok,” she said, reaching into her jeans pocket to pull out her purse, and handing her a blue-green note. “Let’s do this,” she said.
“Wait here,” the old lady said, putting the note in her pocket and leaving the Dragon on the altar in front of the deity. She shuffled down the far end of the small temple, disappearing behind the first row of spiral incense that coiled three metres from the ceiling in a plume of hazy sandalwood scented smoke.
“Have you been in Hong Kong long?” the temple lady shouted out in a voice that gave away the fact that she was bending over something, or exerting herself in some way.
“No, only one week,” replied Tiare, who was curious about what the lady was doing.
“Perfect,” the woman said. “Then this will introduce you to the old souls of the island. It will make them wake up and take notice of you.” She called back in a bright voice.
Tiare wasn’t sure she liked the sound of ‘old souls’ taking notice of her. Although to others she didn’t seem like the shy type, she was actually a quiet person that preferred to go unnoticed if she could help it. Except in Science class, when she loved to talk her way through the entire lesson rather than be bored to tears by cells, or equations, or how heat moves through one article differently than another.  Actually, that’s exactly what she thought of when she considered ‘getting noticed’. To Tiare, getting noticed equalled getting into trouble.  She tried to avoid trouble as much as she could, but sometimes it just seemed to catch her out.
“Is that a good thing?” Tiare asked. “I’m not sure I want to wake up any old souls,” she said in a voice that trailed off with nervousness. “Let them rest,” she added.
The temple attendant reappeared from the coils, carrying a bright red tin cauldron with some difficulty as it was glowing hot from the fire in its belly.  She stumbled over to the concrete floor in front of the altar, and placed it heavily on the ground with a groan before standing up and putting both her hands to her back.

“I’m not as young as I used to be,” she said, stretching her spine. Straightening, she reached out to the table and picked up some  fake paper money  which Tiare could clearly see the words “Hells Bank Note” and turned to throw it into the fire, sending a giant lick of flame up into the air, temporarily lighting up the dark corners of the low ceiling.
“My girl, not everybody that comes to this island greets the old souls, but they are aware of every new soul that enters these waters. So introducing your self is the proper thing to do now isn’t it?” the old lady implored, sounding perfectly rational.
Tiare considered that statement. This visit to the temple had suddenly turned from a good luck offering, to a meet and greet of the old souls of the region. It sounded a bit creepy, but she really didn’t feel like she could back out now.  Besides, maybe it was rational? Maybe it was the polite thing to do. Her father was always telling her that good manners will help her along in the world, wasn’t he?  Tiare smoothed her fingers across her chin and lips, resting her thumb under her chin as she thought.

She turned her head to the side, her face slightly glowing in the firelight.  She looked as though she might get ready to leave, when the old lady said; “Do you like firecrackers?”
That surprised her. Firecrackers weren’t allowed in Australia.
“Do I ever!” she said keenly.
“Let me warn you, these are very loud,” the woman said, pulling up a string of red tubes from the nearby table. The strand was long enough to reach the ground, and each tube was at least a centimetre wide. “They are designed to wake up the spirits after all. Would you like to put them into the fire?” the lady said, handing over what looked like 50 crackers.  Tiare looked from side to side, thinking someone responsible might appear from out of nowhere and yank them out of her hands.
“Cool,” she said excitedly when she realised that wasn’t going to happen, “Do I put them in all at once?”
“Yes, just throw them in, and then get out of the way. Remember to cover your ears!” the old lady grinned.

Tiare hovered over the fire, and then tossed the crackers in, wiggling her hands up into the air as soon as they were released, before jumping back in a way that made her look very child-like and a bit scared. She scrunched up her face and screwed up her eyes while covering her ears with her hands. One second, two seconds, three seconds passed and nothing happened. She opened one eye, then the other, before straightening upright and looking at the old woman, who still had her hands over her ears.
“I don’t think they’re working,” she said, in a whiney voice, her shoulders slumped in disappointment. She walked toward the cauldron. “Maybe I..” she started, but was interrupted by the most ear splitting screech followed by a loud bang similar to a gun going off.
“Ahhhh!” she screamed, jumping back again and covering her ears. The noise continued, a thunderous applause of crackers, louder than an orchestra of banging drums, more ferocious than a 12 gun salute. The squeals keened through the air, splitting it into smaller pieces that seemed to get stuck in her ears like food in between her teeth. 10 seconds passed in a chorus of explosions and sparks danced merrily. Then suddenly, it stopped. Blue haze and the smell of burnt matches filled the air, mingling with the incense.
Tiare looked at the old woman. “That was great!” she said, eyes sparkling.
“Oh we’re not finished yet,” she replied.  She handed her some paper in the shape of gold squares. “Burn this,” she said. Tiare quickly separated the papers and threw them into the already flaming fire.  Tiny pieces of gold stardust flew up into the air, and the lady gazed into the haze as if in a trance.
“No, I can’t see it yet. More,” she said, handing her more papers to burn.
She repeated the activity. This time Tiare pulled apart each piece of gold before placing it on the fire. She loved seeing the glitter swirl up out of the flames. She thought she’d never seen anything so pretty, but she really couldn’t tell what the old woman was looking at so carefully.
“Oh I see…” the lady said when all the paper was gone. “I see….I see…” she repeated, wringing her hands and wrinkling her brows. “I see,” she said again.
“What do you see?” asked Tiare, her eyebrows knotted together in a frown.
“All will be revealed in time my dear,” the old woman answered cryptically, as she opened a draw from a long lacquered cabinet decorated with intricate paintings of lotus flowers and ribbon like patterns. “But I’d like to give you a gift,” she said.
A gift? Wow, thought Tiare. She really wasn’t expecting a gift, but then, she hadn’t been expecting any of this either.  She was really quite glad she’d got up off the couch.
“But this isn’t an ordinary gift my dear. This comes with some responsibility. It’s a gift from the old souls for your future travels.”

The lady laid a black and gold shiny box on the altar behind the paper Dragon and opened it up, murmuring something the girl could not understand. She clapped her hands three times, then removed the box, turning to face Tiare.
Inside, Tiare could see small compartments filled with different amulets. One had a Buddha sitting in lotus position, on a leather thong. Another had an Ohm symbol etched into glass. Her eyes skipped over these, and rested on a glowing, plain translucent stone. Her fingers reached down and touched the smooth surface. “Is it a moonstone?” she asked in awe.
“No my dear, but you have chosen wisely. This is an antique white jade amulet, once worn by a royal family member in days gone by. Some say it has magic in it, or at least, has a power that cannot be denied,” she said in a low, serious voice.
Tiare was mesmerized by its beauty. It seemed to glow from the inside, not in a sparkly way like other jewels she had seen, but in quite an other-worldy way, that gave weight to the woman’s claims, but of course, Tiare didn’t really believe her.  Who would give away something so precious? To a stranger, none-the-less?
“Here, let me help you put it on,” the old lady said, moving around so that she was standing behind her.

“Where ever you go, go with all your heart,” she said, placing the cool stone on her chest, and fixing the silver clasp shut.

“Your vision will become clear only when you look inside and learn the true language of your heart, “she said, gently turning the girl’s shoulders so that she turned to face the old woman.  “Some live in a dreamland, always looking outside of their own self,” she said. “But some take a real journey, and travel in the heart’s realm, and those people become truly awake.”

“This stone will ensure you remain true to the path of your heart,” she continued. “Listen to it carefully and let it guide you.”

Bad Habits Die Hard – Chapter Three of ‘Hijinks’

For this week’s Indie Ink Challenge, Brian Feebhail challenged me with “Bad Habits Die Hard.” I’ve written this challenge in the voice of my main character for a young-adult novel I am writing for NaNoWriMo – your feedback as always is appreciated.

Chapter Three

She looked out from her bedroom window, thinking about the day. Why had he been so kind to her? It seemed suspicious, all of it. After all, he was so good looking, and she was so plain, she said to herself.
She headed over to the mirror, and looked at herself in the reflection. Yep, plain. Her friends had always said that her best feature was her hair. She twisted it now, on top of her head. She had seen some women in magazines with this hairstyle, but on her, it just looked wrong. She never seemed to be able to pull off anything other than a messy style, or a classic pony tail. Her shoulders slumped. She wouldn’t hold his interest for long, that she was sure of.

Then she remembered how he had looked when they’d said goodbye. That couldn’t have been fake. Even though they’d only just met, he truly looked forlorn when he’d waved goodbye and headed down the footpath back toward the ferry terminal. Like he really didn’t want to go. Like he wanted to stay and talk to her, in the same way she wanted to talk to him. To take the time to get to know each other better, to understand one another more. She took out the piece of paper and stared at it in her hand. Caleb Liu. 6045 67 89. It was just a simple piece of paper, but something significant. It represented her first date.

She looked at herself again in the mirror, seeing the smallest of smiles at the edges of her lips, but when she caught sight of herself, her hair now hanging in a half up, half down mess, her freckles sticking out against the flush of her cheeks, her hips bulging slightly above her jeans because of the way she was standing, everything crashed back down again. She didn’t even know if this was a real phone number. What if today had been one big prank?

Why else would someone so handsome want to spend so much time with her?
Why HAD he been so friendly? She searched her mind for an ulterior motive. Anyway, she eventually said to herself, when she couldn’t find a valid reason for him hanging out with her; he will soon figure out how boring you are and you’ll be alone again.

Alone, in a different country, without any friends. She slumped on her bed. She’d had a spectacular day, and had experienced so much, but now that it was over all she wanted to do was bury her head in the pillow and cry. She still missed her friends. She missed her hometown. She missed the familiarity of the world around her that she’d had back home. She hadn’t known how simple her life had been before, and how good it was for her.

She beat her fist into the bedspread, forgetting that she still had Caleb’s number in her hand. It had started to become a little damp from her body heat, and she nearly tore it in half by accident when she punched the bed. It was enough to shake off some of her self pity. She lay her head on the pillow and looked out the window. The lights were shining across the harbour, and the colours looked pretty.

Why oh why was it so hard to believe in herself? She questioned. Just for once, she wanted to feel like the girls on T.V. She wanted to feel beautiful, desirable, and fascinating. But you’ll never be, she told herself. No, you’ll never be that, she heard the voice say, nasty and mean, just like the ugliest version of herself.

She looked at the piece of paper. What did he see? She wondered. Next weekend she would know more. It’s a long time to wait, she thought.

*********************************

I challenged L.Vu with “Art for Art’s Sake” – why not drop by and check it out?

First Kiss

This week’s Picture It and Write photo from Ermilia corresponded with my prompt for the Indie Ink Writing Challenge from Kevin Wilkes – great work guys!

Kevin challenged me with
“Write a story that takes place entirely outdoors and includes a discussion of
a natural object or occurrence.”

Here is the photo from Ermilia.

“Hurry, or we’re going to be late!” said Roger, holding two folios under his arm while glancing back over his shoulder to Jenna, who was obviously struggling. She could tell he wasn’t going to wait for her, and mentioning her high heels wasn’t going to make him slow down. Why had she worn them today at all? She’d known they’d need to cross town to get from one court house to the other, a good ten minute walk through pedestrian-filled uneven sidewalks.

There was a stillness to the air. It was hot, and humid, making her feel more rattled than usual. She knew why she’d worn the shoes of course. “I’m right behind you,” she said in a fake breezy voice that belied her challenge, while dodging a pushy teenager who was listening to music so loudly that the guitars could be heard from a meter away. She hurried behind him, keeping to his pace but feeling a tiny hot spot appear on the top of her big toe, that pinched with every step. On top of that she had started to sweat. To provide a distraction, she allowed herself to openly gaze at his body, as she walked.

His arms were strong and muscled, the shape just showing through the long sleeved jacket of his suit. The clean lines of the tailoring showed off his broad shoulders, and athletic torso. Lowering her eyes she appreciated his determined gait, and started to wonder what it might feel like if she just grabbed his bum and squeezed it a little. Or had both hands on him, pulling him toward her in a heated embrace. Or …

“Oh no!,” Roger said, turning and stopping so abruptly that she ran right into him, feeling his solid chest and inhaling a heady mix of his scent – that seemed to rush through her cells creating confusion. She tried to look composed, stepping back a little. He didn’t notice. “It’s a T8 storm signal,” he said, holding out his iPhone to show her the glowing screen. As if on cue, rain started to sheet down and the sound of thunder filled the air. “We’ve got to try to beat the height of the storm. Are you going to be OK?” he said, concern filling his eyes as his gaze dropped to her shoes and back up to her face, making her shift uncomfortably from foot to foot.

“I’m going to be fine, but what about the papers?” Jenna said, imagining the reaction they’d receive from the judge if they tabled soggy papers, themselves soaked in rain. “I don’t have an umbrella,” she said, indicating her grey ostrich-leather office bag.
“I can run ahead with the folio, grab a brolly, and meet you back here,” he said hurriedly, looking at the sky. She’d not seen this side of him before. Caring, thoughtful and considerate. She knew him as the hungry go-getter, willing to do anything to get the deal done.
“That would be wonderful,” she said, and in the next moment he was gone, one hand shoving his phone back into the inside pocket of his suit while he ran, the other wrapped around the work they’d labored to finish over the past three months.

She slunk over to the shop window and felt her breath return to normal as she peered into the display of jewellery. She lifted her arms a little, and enjoyed the escape of heat. She liked the princess cut diamond, in a cluster of smaller gems. She imagined what it might look like on her hand, second finger from the left. Or in a box. In a box, being held by Roger, who was smiling at her. Holding out the box, on bended knee, imploring her with his heart-stopping eyes.

Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t notice that the sidewalk on her side of the street was all but completely empty. She turned from the shop window and felt something cold on her feet, and looked down to see that water had already risen to cover the cement, and gushed up in a fountain instead of running down a nearby drain.

The sky darkened purple, then black, and rumbled ominously. She noticed lights come on in the office towers across the street, as if it were night. She felt a peculiar sensation in the air, and noticed that her hair had started to stand up on her scalp. She could smell something strange too, and tried to remember when she’d smelt that scent before. Inhaling deeply, she saw a white flash of light in her mind – the photocopier. Ozone. Her ears started to buzz and she felt an unusual warmth. A siren rang through the air and car horns sounded in the distance. Water continued to rush over her feet. She decided to stop waiting for him and get inside. She could see an open cafe on the other side of the street, but she’d need to dash 20 meters uncovered to get there.

She stepped out into the rain, and it immediately soaked right through her cotton blouse making it stick to her body. She tried to run, but the strong current of water caused her feet to feel sticky, heavy and slow in motion. Her skirt wouldn’t allow her knees to bend high enough, so she had to walk, a well of water rising past her calf. Suddenly she dipped in the road, and her shoe caught on something. A loud ‘BOOM’ resonated through the air and she looked up to see a giant flash of lightning, forking into not one, but 5 streaks of power through the sky, seeming to make land right at the office tower. She screamed, and tried to budge her foot, but it was stuck. ‘BOOM!’ rang another penetrating bass crash, and she saw the blue fork at the same instant, less than a meter away. “Ahhhhhh!!” she cried, pulling her foot out of the shoe, only to fall into the watery road, splaying the contents of her office bag into the stream. ‘BOOM’ the sky bellowed, and she saw nothing but light.

Smoke. Light. Everywhere blue. Green. Buzzing. Water, streaming, gushing. She drifted up above her body and saw her form lying in the middle of the road. She watched the agonized faces of those who could see her from the cafe. They were crying, screaming, hugging each other. She could see another figure approach her body through the rain, and then she was tunneling down a slippery dip, a million miles an hour, feet first.

The sky was concrete and water. Feet walked through, leaving no footprints in the watery clouds, until her mind registered that she was upside down. Whispered voices attached to misty faces arced in front of her, looking right into her eyes. She felt her waist held steady by strong arms, light everywhere, weightless and free. She drifted between flying, and an awareness of a body that covered her like a skin. In the distance she listened to a beating drum thrumming in a rhythm she had heard a million times before. Voices.

“Jenna? Jenna? Are you O.K?”  It was a good voice.
“Damnit, I shouldn’t have left you!” it said, pained. She became aware of her hand. A warmth surrounded it, that reminded her of sunset. The glow of amber across the horizon.
“Jenna. I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time now,” the voice continued.  “I’m in love with you,” he whispered gently. She knew that voice. She liked it. Could she open her eyes?
“Don’t leave me now…,” she heard. A sniffle, and her hand felt more pressure.
“Don’t leave me Jenna,” he sobbed.

She strained against the light, ignoring the crowd behind her eyes that questioned her. She pulled with all her power, feeling herself stretch into a fine line as she flew across golden fields of wheat, over an entire lake of shimmering water, growing thinner and thinner. From deep within her essence, she felt an orb float upwards in a pulsating glow, resting behind her eyes.

Colour filled her senses as she snapped her eyelids open. Misty, impressionist painted people drifted before her until one face, so close she could smell his cheek, focused.

Roger.

He smiled, and planted a gentle kiss on her cheek, relief written in his eyes.

Roger, she said to herself, wondering if she was dreaming.

He loved her too?

**************

Why don’t you check out Sir’s response to my challenge “The restless waves curse over the rocks, and the sea is the colour of my sorrow”.