Safe

Ashley slipped the only picture she had of her little brother—taken in better times when their father was still alive—into the white Walmart bag on top of a couple changes of clothes, and tied it closed. Then, she turned out the light, and fully clothed, stretched out on her bed. And waited.

He had said to meet him at midnight. One more hour to go.

As the minutes ticked by, her resolve began to weaken. Was she doing the right thing? She had only known John Smith for two weeks, after all. How did she know he wasn’t an ax murderer, or worse? He looked okay in his profile picture, and in all the messages they had exchanged, nothing came off as weird. But you never could tell.

Maybe she shouldn’t go. Maybe if she talked to her mom again, when she wasn’t drinking, this time her mom would believe her, and—

The doorknob jiggled. Ashley sucked in a startled breath and sat up. Again, rattle-rattle-rattle. She grabbed Fuzzy Wuzzy and clutched the teddy bear to her chest.

“Ash…come on, unlock the door,” Jack said, his voice slurred from alcohol, drugs, or both. “Let your old daddy in.”

He wasn’t her daddy! Her daddy was dead.

“Please…” More rattling. “You know, I could…could knock the damn thing down. If I was…a mind to.”

Ashley screamed, the sound muffled against Fuzzy Wuzzy’s belly.

Something, most likely Jack’s fist, banged once against the door. Then silence.

Ashley held her breath, ears fine tuned to the hallway outside her door. She heard the faint sound of footsteps fade away. She was safe. For tonight.

But what about tomorrow night? Would her mom’s boyfriend decide then that a locked door wasn’t going to stop him? If something didn’t happen, she’d lose her virginity to the creep before her thirteenth birthday got here next month.

She had no choice. She had to leave.

Ashley picked up her cell phone and read the time—11:45–then dropped it on the bed beside Fuzzy Wuzzy, snagged the Walmart bag, and padded across the floor to the window. One leg over the sill, she paused. He said not to bring my phone, but he didn’t say anything about…

She rushed back to the bed, picked up the teddy bear, and tucked him under her arm. Then it was out the window.

Her eyes already accustomed to darkness, Ashley jogged across the dew-damp grass and through the back gate listing half-open on rusty hinges. She turned left, following the tree-shaded alley that ran behind the houses on her street.

She hadn’t told a soul about John Smith, even Emily, her best friend. He had told her not to, that people wouldn’t understand. She didn’t even understand herself, but was grateful that John Smith had wanted to help when she told him about Jack.

Ashley saw the dark shape of a man standing at the end of the alley. Right where he said he’d be. She slowed, a niggle of unease rippling along her spine. Then stopped.

He moved toward her. Come, young one, she heard him say. Time is short.

Clutching her bag and Fuzzy Wuzzy, Ashley watched him approach, wanting to turn and run, but her feet were rooted to the spot. What have I done? “Mama…” she croaked. “Daddy…”

The man stopped in front of her, and she recognized John Smith from his picture. But there was something more to him that shone beneath the surface of his skin and moved in his dark eyes. Something…something…

He smiled, and all the fear drained from her body. He held out his hand and Ashley took it.

In the night sky behind John Smith, a light winked into existence. Ashley tracked its lightening-fast approach, and in seconds, the landscape was bathed in its silver light. She looked up into its glowing heart. I’m safe.

Dogs barked. Car alarms jangled. Lights blinked. TV sets turned off and on.

Ashley McKinnon’s feet left the ground, and with one hand in John Smith’s, the other clutching Fuzzy Wuzzy, she flowed upward into the light. On the ground where she had dropped it, the Walmart bag bounced once, twice, and followed.

The Barn

The barn was a big part of my childhood. It had always been there, and it had always been old. But long before I entered the world, the barn had once stood new and proud on a ranch/farm that would one day belong to my parents.

According to what Daddy said before he passed away, Mama bought the barn and house, and the land both occupied, while he was away working as a lumberjack in far-off California. They’d been living in a little three-room house on land owned by Daddy’s parents when the place went up for sale. Mama called Daddy and he told her to buy it. And if memory serves me correctly (Bear in mind that I am going on what others have told me; I wasn’t even born yet.), Mama moved my older siblings in, lock, stock, and barrel, all on her own. No indoor plumbing, no electricity, but to my parents and brothers and sisters, that place became home. And after I was born, it became my home as well.

I have often wondered about the family who lived there before us. And I wondered what that old barn had seen in its heyday. All I know is what it saw when it came into my family’s possession, and maybe a little of what it heard and felt.

Laughing kids playing in its rafters, building hidey-holes in the bales of hay stored there for feeding the cattle in winter. Daredevil kids scaling its gray, splintered walls to stand on top of its rusty, sheet-iron roof to look out upon the field, barn lot, and small calf-pasture surrounded by woods that stretched out as far as the eye could see.

Mama standing by the gate that led out into the field, calling the milk cow in her own unique way. I didn’t understand the soo-wees and other noises that went into it, but the milk cow did. She trotted or meandered, depending on her mood, to the wide gate made out of crossed boards and cedar poles, and Mama let her into the barn lot, then inside the barn. There, Mama had a big pan of cotton-seed hulls ready, and while the cow ate, she milked. On the ground nearby, an old pie plate awaited a few well-aimed squirts of fresh milk for the barn cats. I remember that at least on one occasion, a contrary milk cow kicked off Mama’s glasses, and she called a couple of us kids out there to help her find them.

And I remember the calves born inside that barn. In cold weather, my daddy kept a close eye on the pregnant cows, and when their times came, he herded them inside and out of the elements for the birth, and for protection the first few crucial days afterward. Sometimes the birth was difficult, and Daddy had to help by reaching inside and turning the calf so the front hooves came out first. He couldn’t save every calf in distress, and it was sad when he couldn’t. But we all rejoiced—and maybe the barn did too—when a little, wet calf took its first wobbling steps and suckled.

The barn served as protection for our food as well. In a shed separated from the main part of the barn, we laid out freshly dug potatoes on clean hay and sprinkled them with lime to keep them from absorbing moisture and rotting. One year, we had drying peanut plants hanging from the rafters. I remember sitting up amongst the hay bales cracking the hulls open and popping nuts into my mouth.

Near the barn, an old oak spread its shading limbs over the feedlot. My brother nailed a few boards to form a platform high in the oak’s sturdy branches, and we christened it “The Tree House”. I bet that old barn heard me sitting up there singing or talking to myself—two things I still do to this day—after my older siblings pushed and pulled me up into The Tree House and left me there while they went off to play. Maybe it enjoyed my singing. Maybe it laughed when I carried on conversations with imaginary friends. I’d like to think it did.

The barn is no longer there. Quite a few years ago, it was torn down before it completely collapsed, and a new one took its place. But that old barn, the smell of it—hay and manure—will stay with me for the rest of my life. Those two combined odors symbolize home to me. Security and warmth. Love and family.

A lot of people might shake their heads, and think, “Poor girl, poor children, to grow up so deprived.” But we were never deprived. We had plenty to eat, a fireplace to warm us—one side at a time—and a mother and father who put their children first in every aspect of their lives.

And we had a barn.

And it had us.

© 2019 KT Workman

Wings

the wings are still there
propped in a dark corner
of a forgotten room
since childhood

tattered and moth-eaten
dull gray with dust
feathers drooping
beneath Time’s weight

they whisper of a dream
where anything is possible
where I can fly
if only I believe

and possess a child’s courage
to strap on gossamer wings
constructed of faith and innocence
and leap blindly into space

© 2019  KT Workman

 

Parable of Motherhood

When my mother died in 2003, my sister’s friend sent her this. I think it’s the most touching piece of writing I have ever read about mothers.
For all of you out there whose mother has passed on, this is for you…

Parable of Motherhood
By
Temple Bailey

The young mother set her foot on the path of life. “Is the way long?” she asked. And her guide said, “Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it. But the end will be better than the beginning.” But the young mother was happy and she would not believe that anything could be better than those years. So she played with her children and gathered flowers for them along the way and bathed them in the clear streams; and the sun shone on them and life was good, and the young mother cried, “Nothing will ever be lovelier than this.”

Then night came, and storm, and the path was dark and the children shook with fear and cold, and the mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle and the children said, “Oh Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near, and no harm can come,” and the mother said, “This is better than the brightness of day, for I have taught my children courage.”

And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead and the children climbed and grew weary, and the mother was weary, but at all times she said to the children, “A little patience and we are there.” So the children climbed and when they reached the top, they said, “We could not have done it without you, Mother.” And the mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars and said, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness. Yesterday I gave them courage, today I have given then strength.”

And with the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth, clouds of war and hate and evil–and the children groped and stumbled, and the mother said, “Look up. Lift your eyes to the light.” And the children looked and saw above the clouds an Everlasting Glory, and it guided them and brought them beyond the darkness. And that night the mother said, “This is the best day of all for I have shown my children God.”

And the days went on, and the weeks and the months and the years, and the mother grew old, and she was little and bent. And her children were tall and strong and walked with courage. And when the way was rough they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill, and beyond the hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide. And the mother said, “I have reached the end of my journey. And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone and their children after them.” And the children said, “You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.”

And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said, “We cannot see her, but she is with us still. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a Living Presence.”

Voice

If someone were to hand you a sample of writing and ask you to identify the author, would you be able to do it? Probably not, unless the writing happens to belong to a person whom you’ve read extensively. If that’s the case, you can make an educated guess because of how they tell the story, in other words, their voice.

New writers know of the elusive voice, but often struggle to find their own. They feel as if their writing is too cut and dried, has no flair, so they try this style, then that style, emulating authors they admire. And that’s okay, it’s practice.

Writers are not born with their literary voice; it’s shaped over time while penning countless pages of work. To know that, all one has to do is go back to an author’s early work and compare it to her latest. The emerging voice is there in the first published piece (after many unpublished ones), but much the same as fine wine, time has bred character and depth to the writing.

How the author describes, structures a sentence, his use (or lack) of metaphors and similes, are some of the many ways voice can be discerned. And the more one writes, the more a skeletal pattern unfolds that binds the story together. A writer uses that skeleton, again and again, covering it with muscles, tendons, and skin to give his words life.

That skeleton, also known as voice, holds it all together.

Time and practice forms one’s own unique voice. There’s no shortcut to it, just lots and lots of hard work. And it doesn’t matter how much education one has or how much innate ability, one will invariably write badly before one writes well. That fact holds true in writing as it does for about anything a person chooses to pursue. Do you think Tiger Woods won a championship the first time he picked up a golf club? Or Paula Deen cooked a scrumptious, butter-dripping meal on her first attempt? Or people went wild the first time a young Bruce Springsteen picked up a guitar and belted out a song?

Nope. All of them put in the necessary years of practice to hone their craft, and you, dear writer, have to be prepared to do that as well. No more than singing is just about mouthing words in tune, writing isn’t just telling a story; how the singer sings, how the writer writes is equally as important.

Discover your how, and you discover your voice. 

©2019 KT Workman

A Raccoon Problem

“It’s the goddamn ‘coons,” Maynard Threlkeld said. “That’s what’s getting in your trash.”

Jeffery Kopek smoothed back his thick, dark hair with a nervous hand. “How can you tell?” He eyed the slimy salad greens, moldy tofu, and assorted takeout containers scattered around his overturned garbage can.

“Shot plenty of the rascals back home for making a mess like this.” Maynard waved a hairy, muscled arm toward the scattered trash. “Took a while, but they got the message.”

“But how do you know it wasn’t a dog?” Jeffery asked. “Or even a cat?”

“Cat ain’t stout enough to get the lid off. And as far as a dog goes—you seen any dogs around here, hoss?”

Jeffery shook his head.

“That old Mexican down the street…what’s his name?”

“Mr. Ortiz?”

“Yeah, him,” Maynard said. “He told Kara that ‘coons got into his koi pond last week, ate pretnear every one of ‘em. He restocked it and covered it with some screen wire, but it didn’t do no good. Mangy critters shoved it to one side and had themselves a fish supper.” He shook his head, scratched blond whiskers. “Saw a science show on TV the other night about raccoons coming into towns and causing all kinds of mischief. Said they ain’t got nowhere else to go ‘cause people are taking away their habitats and such.” He nudged an empty soup can with the toe of his boot. “Hate to, but if this keeps up, I might have to break out my pistol.”

Jeffery was horrified. He could just see it now, the authorities showing up at his door, wondering where the shots had come from, wondering if he was involved. They might send him back…there. “The p—police might come? Arrest someone?”
Continue reading “A Raccoon Problem”

Barbed Wire Heart

wrapped tight
in rusty barbed wire,
the caged heart beats
steady and slow
with an out-of-time clock,
tick-tock.

iron thorns stab,
draws tainted blood
that drips black and bold
down moldered ribs
formed of deceit and desire,
plip-plop.

©2019 KT Workman

Shelter From The Storm

Here in the South, spring ushers in our first tornado season.

“First?” you say.

“Yes,” says I. “First.”

Unlike Tornado Alley that lies in the Midwest and has one tornado season, we here in Dixie Alley are blessed with two. We have the traditional spring tornado season of March, April, and May; then in fall, November, and December. In Tornado Alley, it’s usually too cold in the fall for tornadoes to form, but owing to the South’s lower latitude, we have more low pressure systems that breed tornado-producing storms.

The majority of our twisters are mindful of the two seasons in Dixie Alley, but there are renegades out there that can strike any month, any week, any day of the year.

Aren’t we blessed?

Earlier today as thunderstorms rumbled over my house in the city, my mind slipped back in time, way back, to my childhood country home and a stormy night that stands out in my memory…

When I was small, my daddy worked far from home in California as a lumberjack. He was gone a good portion of the year, returning in the winter for a few months before going back to make the money he couldn’t make here. That left my mama to take care of a bunch of kids, livestock, and everything else on our farm/ranch. At the time, Mama’s aged mother and uncle lived with us. She had her hands full.

I was such a wee thing, I don’t remember many details of the turbulent night Mama took us all to The Bluff. I do remember being scared, though, and I suppose Mama was too or she wouldn’t have attempted to herd a bunch of kids, and her mother and uncle up the steep, wooded hillside behind our house to the only place she thought might shelter us: The Bluff.

That’s how my siblings and I refer to it—The Bluff, a proper noun. That rocky crag holds a prominent place in my childhood, a place where we all played, and later on our children played, and some great grandchildren as well.

But I digress…

There’s an area of The Bluff where it forms an overhang, and as added protection, a half-buried, humongous rock lies in front of the overhang with just enough room between the rock and bluff for a handful of bodies. That’s where Mama took us.

I remember an upward trek, a dark night and flashes of lightning, bobbing beams from a flashlight(s), labored breathing. And yes, I remember being scared. But I also remember feeling that I would be okay because I was with Mama.

And isn’t that what we all want, to feel safe? Not just from tornadoes but from everything in life that can harm us.

Mama was my shelter from the storm. Long ago, I learned to deal with standing outside in the wind and rain with not even a flimsy umbrella to protect me. But I still miss the security, the feeling of safety, the knowledge that everything would be all right, my mother’s mere presence provided.



©️2019 KT Workman

Roads

a child knows nothing
about the consequences
of the many roads
she will walk in life
until the end
when the last road is chosen
and for better or worse
she arrives at her destination

no more roads left to walk
she then ponders
those fearlessly taken
the ones passed by, unexplored
the hurtful ones
paved with nails and glass
and she realizes that long ago
she lost her way

too late now
she knows, too many times
she picked the wrong roads
always in a hurry
she veered left on a whim
right on a wish
and she has only herself to blame
for this damned dead end

©2019 KT Workman

Rules

I read a blog post recently about the use of correct grammar in creative writing, where the author was questioning if there are any hard and fast rules.

It depends…

Are you writing only for pleasure or a hobby? If so, it doesn’t matter whether or not you use the correct verb tense, misplace a modifier, or use quotation marks when you should have used italics, or vice versa.

But if you are a serious writer, are self-publishing or looking for an agent, you can’t pitch the rules out the window. Some think if you tell an engaging story, your manuscript will be snatched up, and an editor will fix the poor grammar; that’s not going to happen unless you have a unique angle, such as being raised on a remote island by a family of seals. A few grammatical mistakes and typos most likely will be overlooked; but a manuscript littered with errors will not. And as for self-publishing, yes, you can publish your book sans editing. But do you really want your sloppy grammar out there for all the world to see?

It all boils down to whether, for you, writing is an avocation or vocation. If it’s an avocation, you can throw caution—or nouns and verbs—to the wind. Write with impunity. But if writing is a vocation, tread that grammatical mind field with care, even on your personal blog. When considering whether or not to take you on, literary agents and publishers have been known to google your name or byline, with many asking outright for the address of your blog/website. So it’s best that any piece of writing with your name attached to it is as error-free as you can make it.

Some use blogging as a pastime. Some use it to stretch their creative legs. How you use blogging should dictate your adherence to proper grammar.

©2019 KT Workman