So! We've wrapped up "Street Rats," which I had a great time writing. I hope you enjoyed it, too. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to churn out new short stories every week. Since I want to give you my best work and not something Hollywood comes up with because they need cash and don't have a creative cell in their office, I need to take some time to think up something awesome.
I know, I know. You're heartbroken.
To help ease the pain, I've been thinking about putting up some poetry for the next few Mondays. I do dabble with poetry, and this is the best time of year to write it. I'm no Robert Frost, but I've been featured multiple times in anthologies and wrote a first-place poem for an ACE Regional Student Convention. So I think you'll enjoy what I can come up with.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below! God bless, and happy Monday!
It's Monday night. My parents are out of town. My sister is with my grandparents. I'm sitting at the kitchen table, Mom's birthday flowers my only company, a bowl of peas and corn before me. I'm not hungry. Actually, I'm freaking out inside.
"You can always talk to Me," God says.
I nervously take another bite of peas and corn. "I'm too nervous."
"That's exactly why we should be communicating."
I pull out my phone and open YouTube instead. "Just give me a second. My brain's going everywhere. I can't focus."
God knows that YouTube isn't exactly going to help that problem, but like the gentleman He is, He waits for me to finish eating. And watch one more YouTube video. And see if my sister wants to go to Walmart to get a new phone case. Anything to distract me from the fact that I am alone in a very large house.
Then I realized something.
As a writer, I know a lot of what happens before and after the book takes place. I can see what Alynn's family used to be like before her mother was kidnapped. I can see who she marries and how many kids she has. I can also see Lukas as a young man, eating alone in a large house for the first time, and I feel like a monster.
Most of my characters have tragic backstories, including Lukas. His troubles start long before his fifteenth Easter, but it's then that things really start to go wrong. Right before Easter, on Maundy Thursday, the monks of St. Anne's Monastery run into a horde of Norsemen. Violent Norsemen. After watching everyone he loves die, Lukas is beaten three-fourths of the way to death and left to fend for himself.
He pulls through and, after lying still in the woods for a while, makes himself stand up and limp back to the monastery. He'll be the only soul to enter it for the next thirty-nine years.
Not even my imagination wants to picture what Lukas went through for the first few months. He had too many broken bones, too many bruises, to do much of anything. And even after he healed, he was alone. Every bad thing that happened to him, every illness, every storm, every poor harvest, he went through it alone.
I had a hard enough time spending a single night by myself, with multiple friends and relatives just a phone call or short drive away. In fact, I ended up going out for the evening with my sister. We stopped by Walmart, then Sonic for ice cream, and called our parents while we were waiting for our carhop. It turned out to be a good evening.
I have a newfound respect for Lukas now. But, perhaps more importantly, I'm more comfortable being home alone. I'm mentally preparing myself for the day I strike out on my own, and every experience is good for me.
What's the longest you've gone without seeing another person? What are your tips for being home alone for an evening? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
"I drew you a picture," Isao says, pushing a coloring page across the cluttered table towards me. It's a green and blue puppy with red ears playing with a pink and purple ball. I have to admit, my little brother's already got a handle on color theory.
"That's beautiful," I say. "What's its name?"
"Mitchell the Rainbow Dog. Very creative." I turn back to the table, sorting through Kleenex boxes and Clorox wipes. I check the school supply list again. "Okay, these three packages of wipes are for you, Isao, to take to kindergarten next week. Are you excited?"
I break open a new package of mechanical pencils and put some in my pencil case. Aunt Sharon hands me some pens. "Aren't all the girls decorating their notebooks in duct tape this year?" she asks.
"I don't know."
"Would you like to?"
Aunt Sharon smiles. "What do you say we go to Dillard's tomorrow? You need an outfit for the first day of school."
"You already bought me a whole closet full of clothes."
"I know, but you need a special outfit for your first day of junior high. And maybe some shoes."
Uncle Pat chuckles from his armchair, where he's drinking coffee and reading a novel. "She'll settle down after a while, Keiko," he promises. "There's lights in the driveway. I think your friends are here to pick you up."
Sure enough, a car honks at me. I hug everyone good-bye, grab my backpack, and head out the door.
The car is packed. Brook's dad is driving, and her mom is riding shotgun. I squish in the back between Brook and Landon, taking care not to step on Brook's crutches. Soon, she'll be graduating to a walking boot. "Hey, Mr. Richard and Miss Vivian," I say. "Hey, Brook. Hey, Landon."
"How are you liking your new home, Yank?" Landon asks me.
"It's great. Aunt Sharon spoils me, Uncle Pat's really nice, and Isao is cute. He's always drawing me pictures. How are you all doing?"
"We're good," Brook says. "It's kind of weird being home, but it's nice, too."
"I feel the same way."
We get to Comerica Park, and Landon helps Brook out of the car. She's deft on her crutches, like a bird hopping down a branch. "Can I try using your crutches?" I ask. "Just for fun?"
"Maybe once we find our seats," Brook says. "I'm so excited! I'd watch baseball on TV at Jetta's house all the time. I've always wanted to see a live game."
"We're glad we can take you to a game," Richard says. "Keiko, you won't guess who they're playing against."
"The White Sox?"
"The New York Yankees."
I laugh, pulling my Yankees cap so the brim faces forwards. Landon smiles at me. "How'd a Detroit girl end up a New York fan?"
"My dad went to med school in New York after he moved here from Japan. I guess I liked whatever he did."
"That's very sweet of you," says Vivian. She has dark hair like the rest of her family, not a strand out of place, and she's better dressed for a state dinner than a baseball game. I hope she doesn't spill mustard on her blouse, not that she strikes me as the kind of person who would eat hot dogs. But she has a nice smile, and Brook says that living with her again is like heaven.
We have decent seats pretty close to the field, but Vivian brought binoculars for us anyway. It's fun to watch the players' facial expressions as they concentrate. The players in the dugouts laugh and make faces at each other, and a couple of them are really cute.
I stand up to cheer when one of the Yankees players makes a home run, and a child's voice from the seat behind me says "Daddy, she's confused!"
Everyone laughs. Then comes halftime, and out come the kiss cams. A few older couples kiss--disgustingly--and a young father kisses both his wife and his little girl. Suddenly, I see half of my own face, and Brook and Landon are on the screen, the entire stadium watching.
They both turn red, but they lean towards each other and kiss, and everyone claps. Richard and Vivan look at them, then at each other, and agree to be alright with it.
I'm tempted to use what's left of halftime to rummage through trash cans for half-eaten hot dogs and pizza crusts, but then I realize I don't have to. I'm not a street rat anymore. For the first time in a long time, I've got a family.
Maybe this is just part of the whole "getting older" thing, but I haven't been thinking much about Easter recently. Or maybe it's because my mom's birthday is--oh, today, actually. Happy birthday, Mom! We're celebrating tomorrow at dinner, so I still have about 33 hours to wrap her present. And get her a card. I don't have a card yet.
On top of the birthday celebrations, my parents are celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary and are going to Hawaii to celebrate. They've been packing and scheduling excursions and all that, and I've been trying to figure out how well I'll survive two weeks with my grandparents. Oh, and on top of all that, I'm playing piano on Easter Sunday and have to practice the set list. And I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow. Nice relaxing week we've been having.
I was reminded of Easter recently when I went out to lunch with my Catholic cousin, who ordered fish because it was a Friday during Lent. She said that fish wasn't considered meat because, back in the day, it was a widely-available poor man's food as opposed to chicken, beef, and other meats. That still doesn't explain why some of my vegetarian friends eat fish, but that's a question for another day.
When I was younger, we had something called Resurrection Eggs. Over the course of twelve days, we would open a plastic egg and find something about Jesus' crucifixion. The first day was a little plastic donkey to remind us of the Triumphal Entry. There was a die (which is the singular form of "dice," even though I personally think it should be "douse") to remind us that the soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothes. There was a crown of thorns, a little wood cross, and a spear.
To go along with all these objects (which we continually lost over the years), there was a short devotional. We would take turns reading it; my mom would read one paragraph, my dad the next, myself a third. I don't know if my sister ever read anything, or if we stopped doing the Resurrection Eggs before she was old enough to read fluently.
But this year? The only thought I give to Easter, besides at church where people actually talk about it, is when I practice the songs for the Easter Sunday set. And, of course, all the advertisements for candy and baskets and that stupid plastic grass that gets absolutely everywhere and hides from the vacuum for a week and a half doesn't help anything, either.
I feel like America is undergoing a religious holiday detox. Anything to do with God gets pushed aside to make room for marketing. We're trading the Almighty God for the almighty dollar, and this might be the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals, maybe ever. But I'm not here to give you a soap box sermon. I haven't eaten breakfast yet this morning. And I haven't done anything school related, either. (The website is down after a bad storm last night, so I at least have some excuse.)
What are your plans for Easter? Do you have any traditions you're following this year? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
The hospital isn't too bad. They let me sleep in Brook's room, which is nice because it's air-conditioned--and I get to use her bathroom. It's been forever since I've had an actual shower, and I love it. I think Nurse Debra had to pull a few strings. She also told me that she'll be in contact with my aunt and uncle over in Huntington Woods. I didn't even know I had an aunt and uncle. I'm excited and nervous all at once.
The second day of Brook's hospital stay, when she's still high on painkillers, Landon comes to visit us. He brings flowers--I think he picked them on the way here--but they're a nice addition to the room. Landon's nice in general. Brook, or at least her medications, think he's cute.
"What are the doctors saying?" Landon asks.
Brook shrugs. "They say different things. It depends on if it gets infected, it depends on this, depends on that. The metal that's in my leg right now is just temporary. They've got to put plates and stuff in sometime later this week. I don't know what I'm gonna do when I leave this place, though. Yank's been sharing her dumpster with me, but if I end up in a wheelchair for a few weeks, that'll suck."
Landon gives her an unreasonably cute smile. "I live in a third-story walkup, but I've got a storage unit that's big enough for a couch. It'll at least give you a place to sleep."
"You're the best. Like, I literally think you're the best person I've ever met. And you're cute."
I roll my eyes. Stupid morphine.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch motion--probably another nurse or doctor. But it's not. It's a man in a gray suit, barely standing in the doorway, staring at Brook. All of a sudden, he turns and leaves, and I follow him. I find him sitting in a chair in the waiting room, shaking.
His face is buried in his hands; he probably can't hear me. I take another step closer. "Sir, is there something wrong?" I ask again.
"That's Brook?" he asks, his voice trembling. "With all the tubes and wires--oh, God--"
"Yeah, that's her. Why?"
The man looks up at me with eyes that are a familiar blue. His hair is dark but graying, and his breast pocket holds a pair of reading glasses, two pens, and a peppermint. "If that's the Brook I think it is," he says, "then she's my daughter."
I blink. I've spent enough time in hospitals, back when my own dad worked here, to know that it's hard for people to see loved ones in a sorry state like that. I'm pretty sure that Brook has wires going literally through her leg at the moment. And the morphine high isn't going to help anything, either.
"I'm sorry you had to find her like this,' I tell him. "She might be banged up, but she's alive, she's stable, she's not dying anytime soon. And I know she'll love to see you."
The man hides his face again, takes a few more breaths to steady himself, then stands and heads back for Brook's room. I follow.
Again, he stands in the doorway, wiping his hands on his dress pants, trying not to panic.
He takes a hesitant step inside, then another, finally arriving at the foot of Brook's bed. He tries to look at her face instead of all the wires going in and out of her leg, and he makes himself smile. Brook stares at him.
"Okay, Landon," she says, "I've been seeing things all day, can you please tell me that there's a guy in here?"
"A guy in a suit?'
She sits up, eyes wide, and her heart rate monitor starts beeping faster. "Daddy?"
Blinking back tears, he takes her into his arms and holds her tight. "I missed you, baby girl."
"How did you know I was here?"
"The Amber Alert finally paid off."
"You...you issued an Amber Alert...Yank, hand me my backpack." I hand her the backpack I retrieved yesterday evening, and she grabs the note in the Ziplock bag. "I thought you got rid of me."
The man takes his reading glasses out of his pocket and examines the note. He reads it once, then twice, then stops trying to hide his tears and lets them fall.
"Brook, that's not your mother's handwriting. She's on her way now, she's so excited to see you. I'm so sorry you believed this."
Brook's eyes grow wide, and she starts to cry. "I'm such an idiot--"
"No, you're not."
"I'm sorry, Dad--"
The man takes her into his arms again, and they cry together. I step into the hallway to give them privacy, and there I see a five-year-old boy with black hair and a crayon drawing in his hand.
"Are you Keiko?" he asks.
I kneel down to his level and look into his eyes. I remember them, and I start to cry when I see them.
It's Isao, my little brother.
Like most people my age, I watch too much YouTube. I'll admit that. I'll even watch the weird things that pop up on my "suggested videos" feed for no reason, like that one song about an axolotl that turned into a salamander by drinking something. While axolotls actually do turn into salamanders if they consume a large enough quantity of iodine, why someone felt the need to make a song about it is beyond me.
I prefer to stick to videos that are a bit more sophisticated. Like movie theories.
One of my favorite channels at this point is The Theorizer. He does theories on everything from Disney and Pixar movies to live-action movies. He analyzes physics, genetics, and nearly impossible-to-see details in a way that's compelling and convincing, not to mention extremely interesting. (Except for when he gets into science stuff--go ahead and point out the attached earlobes, Mr. Theorizer, but don't spend half the video on them.)
One thing people don't really talk about, though, are book theories.
Of course, the great sagas like Harry Potter get some noteworthy mentions on the internet. Stuff like "What went on in the Hogwarts dormitories that no one mentions in the books?" But your average book, or one that hasn't hit its moment of greatness quite yet, gets rather little attention from theorists. That's why I'm making things a bit easier for you.
This will do at least for a mental exercise. For those of you who have read Where the Clouds Catch Fire (which is available in softcover and on Kindle by clicking the "purchase" tab above), you may recall this line from Alynn's father, Rowan McNeil:
"Last night, I told everyone good-bye. My parents, Libby, Louisa and Britta--everyone else I've seen buried here. It--it really makes you think, how blessed you are to have what you still do."
Quite obviously, everyone mentioned in that quote is dead. Louisa and Britta are later mentioned as Alynn's sisters--Rowan's daughters--who died in infancy. Rowan's reference to his parents is self-explanatory, but who is this Libby?
When asked about her family, Alynn never mentions her. It could be that Libby died before Alynn was born, or before she was old enough to really know her. Alynn does mention her mother, but not by name. Could it be that Libby was the name of Alynn's mother? You'll figure out the answer to that once you get to chapter five, so while we're here, let's bounce around a few more ideas.
The strange thing about Rowan is that we don't know much about him at all. Alynn's mother came from a large family that had lived in Limerick for many generations. Rowan was just a drifter who ended up there. We don't know where he came from, or what family he had. It might be that Libby was a sister, a cousin, a niece, or a young aunt--large Irish Catholic families tend to be a bit confusing. But why mention only her? Surely he had more than one sibling or cousin.
Perhaps Libby wasn't related to the family at all, but more of a friend. Perhaps Rowan had loved someone before he had met Alynn's mother, but she had died before or shortly after their wedding. It would explain why Rowan took the loss of Alynn's mother as hard as he did. To lose one bride is devastating enough, but to lose two? Ouch.
I know who Libby is, of course. Perhaps I'll give you some new clues in my next book.
Who do you think Libby is? What's your favorite theory about a book or movie? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
I haven't been in Northwest Hospital in two years, since my dad died, and I don't want to spend much time here. The stench of Latex and rubbing alcohol. The coughing and complaining and groaning and occasional retching of people here in the Emergency Room. I hate it.
A blonde guy comes in, covered in blood like I am, and stares at me. "They took her back?" he asks.
I nod. I recognize him as our friendly pickup driver. "Thanks for helping her."
"No problem. You're friends with her?"
"You could say that."
He sticks out his hand, and I shake it. "I'm Landon."
He eyes me suspiciously. "You're a little young to be in a gang, aren't you?"
"No gang. Just my street name." I motion to my New York Yankees cap. "My dad loved them."
"He switched to the Tigers, didn't he?"
That usually shuts people up. Landon mumbles an apology, stares blankly into the waiting room, then takes out his phone. He calls in sick to work. "Surgeries like this take hours," I tell him. "Go to work. Just give me your number and a quarter for a pay phone. I'll call you when she's out."
"Just change clothes first. You look like you murdered someone."
Smiling, Landon scribbles his number on a hospital brochure. "You're a neat kid, Yank. I'll see you this afternoon."
The sliding doors let him out, and I find a clock. Eight or nine past seven--I suck at reading analog--if she's lucky, Brook will be out of surgery by lunch. Until then, I'll lay my fears aside and scavenge for breakfast. Hospitals are usually rife with food.
I have no problem stealing breakfast and lunch, and at two that afternoon, I'm finally able to find Brook again. She's lying white and motionless, her leg a mass of bandages and splints. She's sleeping off the anesthesia.
A nurse comes in a few minutes later and stares at me. "I'm the one who brought her in," I say. "Is she okay?"
"Recovery time is six to eight months, and that's the best case scenario." The nurse pulls up another chair and sits across from me, then pulls up a page on her smartphone and shows it to me. Amber Alert: Brook Charlotte Fernsby, female, age 6. Brown hair, blue eyes. Last seen on Ambassador Bridge on August 16.
The article is dated twelve years ago. I take it and read through it. There's a phone number; I copy it down on the brochure Landon gave me. "Do you think it might be her?" the nurse asks.
Before the nurse can say anything else, her pager goes off and she leaves. I settle back in my chair and stare at Brook until she wakes up.
She smiles at me. "There's a sticker on your face," she says as she swipes drunkenly at my nose.
"They gave you morphine, didn't they?"
"I don't know what they gave me, but nothing hurts anymore. Wow...it looks like a five-year-old came in here and put Dora stickers on everything...there's one on my arm." She picks at her IV line.
"Don't do that, Brook."
She stops, leans back in bed, and looks at me. "I think I went swimming and got water in my nose."
"Is your throat dry?"
"That's your oxygen. I'll see if the nurses won't get you something to drink, okay? You just stay calm and don't pull on any stickers, okay?"
"Aye-aye, captain!" Brook giggles, and I smile awkwardly and leave for the nurse's station.
I can't believe Nurse Debra still works here. She's older and a bit rounder than I remember--her roots are a lot lighter than the rest of her dark auburn hair--and she sees me before I can do anything about it.
"What can I do for you, sweetie?" she asks.
"Room 520...Brook wants some water, can she have any?"
"Room five...twenty...." She taps into her computer. "Not yet. We have some mouth-moistening spray she can use." She looks at me strangely, and I pale. "You know what, there was a doctor who worked here who had a daughter who looked just like you...."
No. Please, no. Don't call CPS on me. Don't call Mom.
"It's sad, though. She ran away rather than be put in the foster care system...."
Please, don't recognize me, please, Nurse Debra.
"Her brother missed her a lot. He lives with his aunt and uncle now...."
Don't you dare bring Isao into this! Wait--aunt? Uncle? On which side of the family?
Nurse Debra wraps me in a big bear hug and whispers, "I'm glad you're alright, Keiko."
Sorry for the late post, guys. There was a technical issue with some school stuff that kept me busy all yesterday, and this morning we went to go see my three-month-old cousin. He's adorable! But my goodness the restaurant we met at...creaky wood floors, water in fancy corked bottles, good-looking waiters with black button-up shirts...we don't eat at fancy restaurants very often, but that pimento cheese dip was good.
I have no idea where Brook is. I just know that she's hurt. Probably. Either that or our husky friend Checkers just killed a squirrel and wanted me to be the first to know.
"Where is she, boy?" I ask the dog. Idiot. It's not like he's going to answer back. "Where's Brook?"
Checkers barks at me and wags his tail. He wants to play.
"Go home, boy."
He barks again. I sigh, and my voice grows stern. "Checkers. Home."
The dog turns around and trots through the woods, and I take off after him. He's fast.
He darts through traffic unafraid. People honk. Someone almost clips him. It gives me a chance to catch up. My mouth is dry. I'm sweating, cramping, but I make myself keep running after this dog. If this is some sort of prank, I'm killing Brook myself.
Finally, I hear her voice. Screaming.
"Brook, I'm coming!"
She's lying on the side of the road, white as flour, blood puddled around her. She's trying to use Checker's leash as a tourniquet around her leg, but her hands are too weak to keep pulling it tight. "Thank God, you made it," she breathes as I'm close enough. "Hit-and-run. It was a gold car, I think--I couldn't tell--I'm going to throw up--"
I take the tourniquet from her and pull it tighter around her leg. I glance at her injury, but only briefly, before I get nauseous, too. I'm normally fine with blood. This isn't blood. This is carnage. "I think you've got a compound fracture," I say, reluctantly. "Northwest Hospital is three minutes from here by car. Two if you're speeding, five if there's traffic, we need to get you there now."
I wish Brook had gotten that phone so I could call an ambulance.
A pickup rounds the corner, and I jump up. The blood on my hands and arms must convince the driver to pull over. I open the passenger door. "My friend's hurt real bad, can you take her to the hospital?" I ask.
"Open the tailgate," the man orders. I do as he says, and soon we're off. Brook's eyes are starry, but she's still awake. She winces as the truck goes over some bumps.
"There's blood on my shirt," she mumbles.
"That's the least of our worries, Brook. Hang in there."
"It won't come out."
"We'll get you a new shirt. Don't worry about it." I pull the tourniquet tighter and glance at the wound again. I'm surprised her foot is still attached to the rest of her body. There's a bone sticking out of her. I know enough about first aid to not apply direct pressure to the wound. I'm surprised Brook knew as much.
"I'm tired, Yank."
"Stay with me. Stay with me. You stay awake, you keep fighting, you hear me?"
We get to Northwest Hospital. I leap out of the pickup and fly through the emergency room doors. "Trauma patient, we need a gurney!"
The nurses look at me. The people in the waiting room look at me. The fact that I am now covered in blood must make an impression on some of them. I'm swarmed by ladies in blue scrubs.
"You just lie down, sweetie--we'll get you taken care of--what hurts?"
They try to put me on a gurney. I swear at them.
"It's not my blood! We've got an eighteen-year-old female outside, hit-and-run victim, compound fracture to her right tibia and/or fibula. Major blood loss. Get a freaking gurney out there, she's my best friend. Please."
A covey of nurses run outside. Someone calls for the orthopedic surgeon, someone calls for the trauma surgeon, someone sponges some blood out of my shirt so they can figure out Brook's blood type. "We'll get her taken care of," someone else promises, and soon Brook's wheeled inside on a gurney, her face ashen, her eyes closed.
She looks like a corpse. Just like my dad, when he was hit by a drunk driver.
"I know I don't pray much, God," I breathe, "but You know I watched Dad flatline in this hospital. Please, please, don't make me watch Brook die."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.