Burnt Leaves and Other Weirdness
I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s kooky and crazy and lives out loud, but she’s got this inner Zen thing going on that makes her come out with some true treasures of insight every once in a while.
One such gem was pretty simple: she said real writers, WRITE. They don’t perseverate, they don’t make up bullshit excuses. They just write – nose to the keyboarded, possible drink in their hand (hello, Hemmingway), and a brilliant fire in their belly that demands they tell the story.
I didn’t have that drive to write when I first messed around with UNDERTOW, but once I got really rolling inside Eila’s world, I loved it – the feel of the abused keys under my fingers and how the voices and scenes washed away the world as I worked. I mean, literally – the house could catch fire and I may not realize it.
So anytime I try to excuse myself from my keyboard, I remember my mother’s words (and the fact that my readers will get on my case if I don’t finish my next novel) and I get back down to business.
But I like to think that I’m actually a storyteller first, a writer second. The tough thing about being an obsessive storyteller is that you have a MILLION stories to tell. And because the new characters and tales are screaming to come out, I sometimes think I can weave them ALL into a current WIP (work in progress). Sometimes I do, but sometimes I control the urge and tell myself they deserve their own novels. Most of the time I spin so many stories in my head, that they all jockey for attention at once, which literally melts my brain.
At night I go running for a few miles, music blaring in my ears, seeking the muse within. While I pound the pavement, those stories that are whispered in my mind suddenly come vividly to life. I no longer see the road, but rather an entire scene playing before me like a ghostly movie screen. Literally, I no longer have any sense of where I am, only that I SEE the scene in front of me. The stories that win the right to be the next one written, are the ones that build scene after scene, night after night as I run.
Tonight I went walking with Kalli, and while we strolled she suddenly asked me why I was feeling the leaves.
I didn’t even know I was doing it.
I was walking under a low slung oak branch and my fingers were trailing through the tips of the leaves above me. But in my mind, I wasn’t touching them – my character was and the leaves weren’t soft and green, but curled and windburnt.
I turned to my daughter and simply replied, “I’m writing,” as I dropped my hands and shrugged.
Of course, she thought I wasn’t normal and commented as such. A minute or two of silence sat between the two of us as we walked in the near darkness. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye as she fiddled with her phone, seeming flustered, but then she finally huffed in aggravation and halted. “DAMN IT! Now I’m gonna obsess about what you’re writing!”
I smiled like the cat who ingested Tweety and pointed to the tree, sitting content and deep green in the night air, and said, “The leaves, in my mind, are burnt and the damage isn’t from nature. I see it every night when I run.”
Kalli looked at me, a stone-still stare that she has perfected over the years, and only her lips moved. “You are so weird.”
Yup. That’s me. The weird one.
I am my mother’s daughter. Apple. Tree.
My daughter is totally doomed to inherit that gene.
Below is the opening of a WIP I call THE COFFIN CREW . . . a story I see in the broken fences and fields of my nighttime runs . . .
THE COFFIN CREW
The prayer is well practiced.
It slips from my lips, a whispered plea for strength and salvation as my cheek fits tightly against the damp metal, my hand steady, my heart calm. I breathe the words, sending them flowing down the honed steel and polished wood as I ease my shoulder down an inch, enhancing my field of vision.
“Béni soit le Seigneur ma force , qui enseigne mes mains au combat, et mes doigts à la bataille. O mon Dieu, je fais confiance en toi : permettez-moi de ne pas avoir honte , ne laissez pas mes ennemis triompher de moi.”
A part of me, a dark corner of my heart, knows the truth: that the words, once so dear to me, have turned bitter on my tongue, evolving into a talisman against Death, rather than a direct line to God. An incantation that now toes the line between witchcraft and superstition, for I know salvation is no longer mine to ask for.
I’ve sacrificed my soul – and my faith – for the land I lay on, my stained blouse doing little to fend off the damp dirt and trampled wheat beneath me. The slow, shallow breaths I maintain force my chest to dig into the soft earth, the little buttons pressing against my fair skin, but my back doesn’t rise.
Tucked in behind the rotting log, my only company is a delicate spider stepping over the gnarled bark, inches from my nose. I study how it moves, a coordinated ballet of eight needle thin legs, and I wonder if it knows its destination, or does instinct drive it?
Does it sense the difference between a granite stone and a decaying body?
I refocus my eyes on the road that cuts through the field when I hear the distant sound of an engine. It’s a well-worn passage point, a scar that digs into the land by those who have turned the green fields of my country to crimson.
I watch from my hidden spot among the grain, grateful that dawn has brought with her a veil of fog that clings to the trees like cobwebs and makes me invisible to those on the road.
From my low point on the ground, however, I can see.
A slow moving truck rattles and protests as it appears from the tall pines, followed by three armed guards on foot, the jagged double S on their uniforms leaving little doubt as to who they are.
I whisper the words once again as I carefully roll my chest to the left and the barrel of my rifle slides silently to the right, causing the spider to freeze. “Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.”
I count carefully in my head. One driver. One passenger. Three on foot.
I have never taken on five, but I won’t allow them to pass, even if where I lay will be where I die. I wonder, morbidly, if it would take long to decay? Would the animals scuffle over my bones and my rifle rust into the log? And years from now, would a child find my bones and my gun, and thank me because they were once again free?
Or would we never be free again, doomed to this hell for all eternity?
I ease my finger over the trigger, closing my left eye as I take aim for the walking soldier with the long-barreled rifle. He is laughing at something his comrade is saying, oblivious to my presence.
I draw breath and the prayer eases from my lungs as my hand stills to stone. “O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not my enemies triumph over me,” I whisper, pulling the trigger.
A howling crack splits the fog and drops the laughing soldier to the ground, lifeless, as the rifle kicks hard into my shoulder. It’s painful, but I’m immune to the gun’s bruising recoil at this point.
Slamming the second bullet into the chamber before I take a breath, I instantly adjust my aim as the men yell, reacting to the first shot and the dead comrade in their midst.
I fire again and my bullet cracks through the land, scattering the birds in nearby trees as the men scramble to find me before my sniper scope finds them. I’ve put another clean shot through the head of the Joker, and he hits the ground like lead, probably before he even had a chance to understand what happened to his laughing comrade.
They begin firing blindly into the fog, desperate to stop me, but I am lethal and calculating, reading their body language as the panic. I can tell where they will run before they do, making escape impossible and death imminent.
Within a matter of seconds, I take the remaining three lives cleanly, though one man moves briefly on the ground after my bullet lodges in his chest. His hand grabs for the dirt, as if seeking comfort from the damaged land, and I slowly rise, watching the truck wobble into the field, still in drive, until it catches on a broken fence post and stalls.
I sling the faithful American rifle back over my shoulder and the strap tugs on my long braid before I pull my hair free. It was becoming a burden, my hair, making me both easily recognizable as a girl and often tangling with my father’s gun, but I keep it long. I remember Mother’s love of brushing it, and braiding it, and for that reason, I have yet to take the sheers to it.
I keep it long to keep their memory alive.
I look out over the field and the carnage I have caused and note that the man is no longer moving. I don’t wretch at the site of my kills anymore, and I wonder if my parents have finally found freedom in the arms of Death, or do they watch me still, horrified by what I’ve become?
Glancing once more to the log that hid me so well and cross myself, thankful I will live to see another day though I doubt God stands alongside any killer, even if the death of those five men may have saved hundreds.
I notice the spider has continued his trek, unconcerned for the suffering of mankind, and perhaps he is the only one worth saving.
Perhaps none of us deserve any kindness once this war is over.
Perhaps in our quest to save humanity, we’ve destroyed our own.