New Year, New Possibilities

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The cover to my upcoming collection of short stories, illustrated by Rowan Trea McCarty

 

Writing short stories and novels has been a long road, but it’s also been very rewarding. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to publish my work. It’s taken years to improve my craft, and I still have much to learn. But I am at the point where I’m comfortable in my work.  The first goal of next year? Self publish my collection of short stories A Treasure Greater: And Other Short Stories. The second goal will be to donate copies, in person, to libraries in four different cities of four different states, as well as advertising it in those cities book stores. Of course Florida, the state I live in, is a given. There I will donate to the libraries in Gainesville as well as advertise in its bookstores. The other three will be Salt Lake City, Utah, Ashville, North Carolina, and Portland, Oregon.

I don’t expect any of this to be easy work. Nor can I be sure that every library or bookstore will take a self published copy of my work. There is also the matter of putting the finishing touches on my manuscript. This will call for finding an editor. An editor won’t be the only cost. I’ll have to do the math to find out how much it will be to print the number of copies I want to print. Aside from the cost of printing, it’s no guarantee that many people, if anyone, will buy my work. In fact, I’ll be lucky if I sell one or two copies my first year.

Still, I am hopeful. 2018 is a new year full of new possibilities. And as a beginning author I can’t wait to see what it offers me, good or bad. It’s all part of the growth of being an author. Happy New Year to struggling writers everywhere! You are not alone.

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Late Thanksgiving Writer Ruminations

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Turkey leg from Wikimedia Commons, copyright by D Sharon Pruitt.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and yet I still feel inspired to write this post. Maybe because I’ve had to try extra hard to be thankful. Being a struggling writer isn’t an easy thing. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, it’s often lonely. Many of my friends who said they would support me in my writing haven’t, thus casting a cloud of gloom over me to the point there are days I just don’t want to get out of bed. Sometimes it feels hopeless, like no matter what I do I’ll just die in an obscure grave. However, I am thankful for those who have supported me. Likewise, while my blog may not be read by over hundreds or thousands of people, I am grateful for the few readers who love my work and who encourage me. Thank you. I am grateful. Likewise I am grateful for long nights of editing, the constant rewriting, and what seems like a never ending process of my work. I am grateful for rejection slips and rejection in general because it means that I am living. I’m thankful, in a sad sort of way,  that I’m still working in a day job full of ungrateful customers and coworkers who don’t care about reading and all the doors it can open to the world around them, even if it means holding onto my sanity. I am thankful to be living this life of a writer. It may be one constant struggle as I hike my way up the rugged and unforgiving mountain up to the pinnacle of success, but it’s one well worth it.

To my fellow novelists, poets, and short story writers, don’t give up. I know that there are days in which it all seems hopeless. You write to deliver your voice, your vision, your wonderful world of fresh ideas and new adventures to the masses, only to feel like you are delivering a message in an echo chamber. But be thankful you have the gift to write. Be thankful that you do something that gives you joy. Above all, don’t shrug off the mantle, as heavy as it may feel sometimes. Persevere. You were made to write.

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Mother’s Milk: Short Story pt 3

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Cosmic Winter Wonderland. Taken from Wikimedia Commons

Part 3 of a short story I am working on.

It was only a week later that reality would give me a rude awakening. One of the cleaning bots was in the halls, sanding away some food and wine stains that some idiotic drunk had spilled on the wall. The bot had its arm outstretched and was sanding away at the stubborn stains with its sanding wheel when all of a sudden my little sister, out of carelessness ran between us. I tripped over her and knocked over my mom. It’s amazing how something can happen so quickly and yet simultaneously so slowly. But most of all it was terrible. For a couple of seconds I was terrified that I’d lose my mom again. I saw her fall past the cleaning bot who tried to back away, only to have her arm cut open with the sanding wheel.

In no time at all, I was by her side. The bot was trying to apologize, but I brush it aside. I look at the cut to find that it was bad. She was bleeding profusely. I had to get her back home. It didn’t help matters that Nabiki was panicking. What happened next is all a blur in my mind, nor could I hope to describe how I got both my mom and my little sister back. If it’s one thing that sticks out from that moment was the shock on my mom’s face. She didn’t say a thing as I lead her back to the dorm. In hindsight it’s probably good that she didn’t. If she had of been panicking I would have been too. How I drowned out the cries of Nabiki, I don’t know. Needless to say, I counted it as a miracle when we got back to the dorm.

 But getting back to the dorm with my mom still unconscious wasn’t the only thing I counted as a miracle at the time. Imagine my surprise when my mom suddenly said, her voice as clear as though she were healthy, “Oh my, I should be more careful. Thank you for helping me, Takeshi.”

“You’re okay, mommy!” Nabiki cried.

 Nabiki was ecstatic. I was glad that one of us were. I would love to say that I was just as joyful as she was. But I would be lying if I did. My intuition was telling me that there was something wrong with all of this. I would learn soon enough that this was just a so-called miracle with a rational explanation. If only that rational explanation could have been one to put my mind at ease. It’s a crushing blow to one’s hearts and souls when rational explanations turn out to be detrimental to our illusions that give us comfort.

I went to get a towel to dip in soapy water to cleanse the cut. When I wiped away the blood I saw how deep it was. If only that had of been the worst of it. To my surprise I saw green veins of some sort sticking out. That’s when my illusions that all had been made right, that my mother was back with us, shattered. One of the green veins sent out a spark, shocking my wet hands. Ignorance certainly is bliss. But I couldn’t afford to live with my head in the clouds. This was not my mother. It was an android wearing human flesh. I suddenly felt noxious to the point that I was about to throw up. Not only had the Captain lied to me, but my fake mother was wearing human flesh and had stolen her memories. I had to excuse myself.

“Are you alright, Takeshi?” the android asked me, faking a voice of concern.

“I’m fine, fine,” I lied. “I just need to take a break.”

 I made my way to the bridge. Once there, I demanded an audience with the Captain, only to be told by a guard at the door that he was sleeping in his quarters. But like a pain in the neck, I refused to go away until I saw Captain Fernandez. When the guard told me that I needed to leave, I defied him by trying to shove my way into the cockpit. He blocked me, but I threw up such a fuss and yelled so loudly that the guard eventually, after giving me repeated warnings, summoned on the intercom other guards to take me away. Needless to say, it wasn’t long until I found myself in the brig. According to them my crime was causing a disturbance. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My only crime was that I was a young boy who was scared and angry, who only wanted answers. But sometimes those who seek truth are punished for it. At least I was for the time being.

 I was unsure of how long I would be in my cell. I didn’t care. I had no reason to. There was nothing waiting for me back at my dorm except for a metallic imposter of my mother, clothed in flesh. It was disgusting, it was obscene. I was irate. There isn’t much to do in those cells, and all I could do was lie upon the bed, fuming. They were cowards, the lot of them, or so I thought to myself.

I expected to spend a night in the brig. But life throws us surprises and not always good ones. “You mother is here to see you,” an officer said to me.

My fake mom was at the door of the brig, looking through the window. “Takeshi, my son, are you okay?”

“You’re not my mom!” I yelled at her.

 “But I am,” she said, seeming genuinely taken back.

 “You’re not!”

 “I only want to help you.”

 “What you want is to further screw up my life. You aren’t my mom. You’re an imposter.”

 “Takeshi, I” –

“Leave!” I cut her off.

“But I” –

“Leave!”

Before she left, I noticed tears forming in her eyes. It was unnerving.

Hours later the door to my brig opened. It was Captain Fernandez, and he was looking at me with concern in his eyes. “A rough night, I take it, son?”

“How am I to know?” I shrugged. “Who can tell when it’s morning or night out here?”

“I’m sorry you were tossed in the brig” he sighed. “I wasn’t alerted to your predicament until an hour ago. If I had of known in advance, I would have stopped my officers from tossing you in here. May I please take a seat?”

 I nodded. He sat on the same bed I was sitting on, thankfully still giving me my space.

“You found out, didn’t you,” he said more in a statement of fact than a question.

 Again, I merely nodded yes.

“Takeshi, there was no maliciousness on our part when we created an android of your mom,” he tried to reassure me. “Our hearts broke for you. We merely wanted to help.”

What could I say? Sure there intent was good, so could I really fault them? On the other hand, I couldn’t oblige them by thanking them or telling them it was okay. Because it wasn’t! None of this was okay. Even if unintentional, they hurt me further. So I said nothing.

“Perhaps our head engineer and chief scientist can explain it all better,” said Captain Fernandez as much to himself as to me.

 In came a white haired and blue eyed man, about in his fifties, wearing clothes that can be best described as casual and formal, followed by a young Hispanic woman in a lab coat and black work dress.

“Mr. Takeshi, meet the miracle workers,” the Captain introduced me to the two of them. “This is Roger Harris, our chief engineer,” he pointed to the middle aged man. “And this is Dr. Juanita Jimenez, the head of the science department” he pointed to the woman.

The two of them reached out their hands to shake mine. I didn’t give them the pleasure.

“Well, there is much to talk about,” sighed Captain Fernandez. “We’re should we begin?”

 “How about the beginning,” said Dr. Jimenez. “You see, we believed we could bring back your mom, in a sense that is, by extracting her memories before she died.”

“Extract! How?” I pressed the question.

“By use of a chip we planted into her brain before she passed. It was able to quickly retrieve most, if not all, of her memories.”

“And my mom gave her consent?” I asked sourly.

“Your mom didn’t just give her consent, she begged,” the Captain pointed out. “She wanted you to be happy.”

 “See, originally we were going to manufacture your mom by extracting her DNA and cloning her,” continued Dr. Jimenez. “But as much technology as we have on this ship, we don’t have the ability to make her grow to adulthood faster, so we decided just to manufacture her skin, arteries, and blood vessels in the lab. Those we could grow and produce quickly. A clone would have taken years.”

“That’s where I came in,” interjected Harris. “I constructed the body and saw that the memories from the chip implanted in your mom’s head made their way into the head of the android. I even instructed my team of engineers to construct the frame and the wiring that the skin would be placed over. We spent sleepless nights working on the computer in her head, the mechanical brain where we would lodge the memory chip.”

“And her heart,” I shot at him. “I suppose that’s mechanical, too.”

“On the contrary,” Dr. Jimenez corrected me. “The heart is living flesh, again manufactured by our best scientists, scientists whom your father worked with, scientists who were pleased to know him. To bring back your mother after you lost your father, well, it just seemed the right thing to do.”

“And look at it this way,” pointed out Harris excitedly. “We engineered a body for her that’s going to be far stronger than any human body. Human bones break so easily. Muscles get torn if not careful. But her metallic body will take a lot. Furthermore, if damaged should be done to her head causing her to have, what I like to call, robot amnesia, then we have her memories stored in our computers as well.”  

“This is grotesque!” I shouted. “This isn’t my mom. This is some thing… I don’t know what it is. But it’s a hodgepodge of machine and flesh. It’s worse than the Frankenstein monster.”

 “But Takeshi, we brought your mother back, with her memories and everything,” protested Captain Fernandez.

“You did nothing of the sort. Stealing her memories and putting them into an android doesn’t make her any more my mother. No. Memories are more than that. They are personal and intimate. This robot only has a video recording of my mom’s life, not her memories. No wonder I felt something was off.”

 “Takeshi, if you would just” – the Captain began to plead with me before I cut him off.

 “Leave me alone!” I ordered. “I’m in no mood for more lies.”

 So they left me to my gloom, but not before I was released from the brig and escorted gently by one of Fernandez’s officers back to my dorm. I would have liked to have left my problems in the brig, but I had no such luck. For not only was I forced to see the android of my mom again, but I was forced to see technicians working on repairing the wiring. But the discomfort didn’t end there. Nabiki was with our fake mom, holding her hand as the technician’s repaired the wiring.

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Mother’s Milk: short story pt 2

Here’s part 2 of Mother’s Milk. I also recommend going back and rereading part 1, as I made some corrections. The lead character is now 13, not 8.

 

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Image taken by Hubble, property of Wiki Media Commons

For the next two weeks, life was uneventful upon the ship. I tried to hide from the pain of losing loved ones back home, as well as my home, by watching performances in the theaters, and watching movies and shows from the monitor in my room. When I wasn’t rotting my brain away with media, I was hanging out in the garden. Under the circumstances, things were going as well as they could. I mean, at least I had my remaining family.

 Then the accident happened.

One of the programmers aboard the ship went mad and hacked into one of the security robots. Instead of a security bot protecting us from potential psychos, we had a monster spinning around on wheels, firing lasers from its four slot canon. This happened when many of us were dining in the cafeteria. Everybody ducked for cover, hiding under tables and behind the counters. Some even tried to crawl in the cabinets. I can never forget cowering with my mom and my sister underneath one of the cabinet drawers. We had to toss out bowls, plates, and pans to fit in. As we huddled together like frightened kittens, I couldn’t help but think about those eyes. They burned red like fire but were as cold as the metal shell that they resided in.

Sitting not far from us was another woman, crying. Even in the darkness of the cabinet I could make her features out clearly. She had striking curly, blond hair and light blue eyes. She was a woman I would grow to hate.

“What’s wrong?” my mom asked her.

“I can’t find my daughter,” the woman said. “I told her to stay close to me, but she’s lost out there somewhere.”

 “What does she look like?”

The woman brought out a tablet and pressed a button on it, causing a small holographic image of her daughter to appear. The woman tried not to cry but she lost it. “She means the world to me. She’s the only family I have left. I’m so frightened.”

“Calm down,” shushed my mom. The electronic buzz of the security bot could be heard as it wheeled closer to the cabinet we were hiding under.   

When the security bot wheeled away, the woman mustered up courage that she had lost previously. “I’m going to save my daughter or die trying,” she said defiantly. That would have been well and good had she not slipped on the slick floor where wine was spilled from a bottle blasted from a laser. She was out cold.

This was the moment I can pinpoint when my life fell apart.

“I need you two to stay here,” my mom told the both us. “Takeshi,” she directed her attention to me, “whatever happens I need you to look after your sister.”

We implored her to stay but to no avail. It’s funny how time is relative. It took her only a couple of minutes to find the woman’s daughter cowering under one of the tables, but to my sister and me it felt like an eternity. When my mom found the girl the security robot had its four barreled blaster aimed at her. There is no doubt that she would have been killed had not my mom grabbed the girl and took the blast to her back instead.

The guards came right after my mom was shot, and blasted the robot into pieces. There arrival was too late, as twenty people had been killed. A guard found Nabiki and I and asked if were okay. We were anything but okay.

Later on there was a court-martial for the rogue programmer. He had done what he had done out of madness of the idea of losing his home back on earth and having to be stuck for years in space. He had overridden the computer system, making it hard for the other programmers to break the code in time. He was given the death penalty by being shot out of the airlock into the vacuum of space.

As for my sister and I, we were ushered back to our room where a few of the guards and a few of the staff stayed by our side to comfort us. There comfort couldn’t help. It was bad enough that we had lost our dad a year ago. To lose our mom was beyond devastating.

That night, after the guards and the staff left us, I slept with my little sister by my side. I tried to stay strong while she cried herself to sleep on my shoulder. They say that time heals all wounds, but some wounds are just too deep. As the weeks passed, I tried to be strong for my sister, but I couldn’t. I had lost my appetite, and I was short with her when she got on my nerves. I especially hated the daughter of that woman my mom had saved. It was her carelessness that had killed my mom. I don’t care that her mom was one of the lead engineers on the ship. My mom shouldn’t have had to stick her neck out for her clumsy daughter. I would often see her daughter because she would try to make amends with me. The first time I met her was a couple days later in the gardens. I was lying down, looking up at the branches of the trees and the vastness of space.

“Hi,” she said softly. “I am sorry about your mom. Are you okay?”

“Do I look like I’m okay!” I shot back at her. “Because of your stupidity, my mom is gone.”

“I know and I’m sorry,” her mouth quivered like she was about to cry.

She was a girl of about my age, with the same blond hair as her mother, as well as bright blue eyes. Of course she didn’t die. She was too pretty to die.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice full of remorse. “If I could rewind time I would. I know your mom didn’t deserve to die. I wish I could make it all up somehow.”

“You can make it all up by getting out of my face,” I told her, hotly.

She left me to my anger, and I swear that I heard her crying as she ran off. It served her right.

My mood didn’t improve at all as the days went by. I snapped at the kitchen staff, at people who bumped into me, and I kicked cleaning robots I found roaming the ship. I hated everyone and the ship I was stuck on. Worse, I took this out on my sister.

“Will we ever see mom again?” Nabiki asked, timidly, one evening.  

“I don’t know! Why do you keep bothering me? Just leave me alone!” I shouted at her in exasperation, making her sob. 

 I just couldn’t be a father figure to her. I didn’t have the strength.

One day, Captain Fernandez asked to speak with me. I thought he was going to shoot me out the airlock like he did the deranged psychopath who was the source of my grief. Instead the Captain smiled at me warmly as he offered me to take a seat in the cockpit.

“I understand your frustration” he cut to the chase. “You miss your mom. What would you say if I told that she is still alive?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “She can’t be. She got a hole blown into her back.”

“Yes, but doctors were able to repair her heart,” he reassured me. “She will take a while to heal, but our doctors are hopeful.”

 “Why wasn’t I told this?”

“We didn’t want to get your hopes up initially. But she is healing to such an extent that not only do we know that she is going to pull through but that she will be free to return to you in just two more days, we’re thinking.”

“Can I see her?” I nearly shouted, unable to contain my joy.

“Not yet,” he said. “She’s slowly regaining consciousness. She needs her rest.”

Back in my quarters, I told Nabiki the good news. The two of us danced around and laughed joyfully. Nothing could hamper my good spirits. Or so I thought.

 Sure enough, two days later my mom returned to us. The door slip open and she was there, smiling. My sister and I rushed over to her, knocking her over as we landed in her arms. This didn’t faze any of us. My joy in particular was so full. All was right again. It was as if the universe had fixed its cruel mistake. My mom, sister, and I cuddling together on the floor and laughed.

“We missed you so much,” Nabiki said.

“Me too,” I agreed with the understatement of the year. 

“I am so happy that you two, my treasures, are safe,” said my mom.

At first all seemed perfect. Maybe that was the problem. It all felt a little bit too perfect. I’m not lying when I say that she looked like my mother, felt like my mother, and seemed to have all her memories intact. We talked about what we missed back home, about old friends and acquaintances, and all of our experiences growing up. And yet something didn’t seem right about her. Maybe it was that her memory was a little too perfect. I don’t know. Regardless, it wasn’t long until the illusion, as well as my newfound happiness, came crashing down fast.

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