Teachers in Faerie: Part One- Summer Home

summer home

Meghan handed her classroom keys to Alice, the school secretary, and started her summer vacation. As she got into her car, she looked over at the other teachers coming out of the gates. They would probably have a normal summer, sitting by the pool, going to lunch with friends, or working in the back yard.

But Meghan and her friends Debbie and Mary were headed into another world.

Just as she pulled into her driveway, her cell phone buzzed, still on silent from the school day. She looked at it, and saw that it was Debbie.

“Hey, Debbie, are you ready to go?”

“Yeah, just wanted to know if I should pack something formal. Remember last summer when we scored an invitation to the Spring Court Ball?”

“Don’t worry about that. We can buy something more appropriate there if we need to. Just remember to bring lots of candy, especially chocolate bars. They were better than gold last time.”

“Got it. See you at the hotel.”

“See ya.”

Meghan grabbed her bulging duffle bag and set it by the door. Then she looked over her note for Carrie, who was staying in her home to take care of her Pomeranian for the summer. She pulled her long brown hair back into a bun and changed her shorts and t-shirt for a sundress, acceptable attire for their destination. Finally she gave Barker a treat, grabbed a bottle of water, and she was on her way.

The entry point for their vacation was in an old hotel downtown. A few years back, she and her friends had booked a girls weekend there, so they could hang out at the huge swimming pool. The hotel, The Mission Inn, remodeled various times over the decades, was full of passageways and small hidden rooms. Megan’s overactive imagination demanded they explore all of them. During their wanderings, they had discovered an old freight elevator, the kind that looks like a cage.

“Finally, you’re here!” a familiar voice called to her when she reached the lobby. An older woman in her sixties with long straight grey hair jumped out of an overstuffed chair by a brick fireplace.

“Mary, I can’t believe the school year’s over,” Meghan said with a smile. “I can’t wait to see Clover again. I miss her brown bread and corn muffins.”

Another woman walked in carrying a duffle bag. She wore a wide brimmed straw hat that kept her dark curly hair under control. “Ready for some fun?” she said as she joined them.

The three women entered the maze of hallways lit by dim lights set in wrought iron holders. They passed a few housekeeping carts and guests in swimsuits. Then they opened a door at the end of the corridor and walked down ancient stairs that looked like they were made of stone. Down and down they descended into the humming body of the hotel.

After four flights, they finally reached the bottom. Meghan opened the wooden door and they stepped into a small room with a freight elevator. She pulled up the outer gate, and her friends pulled apart the metal doors. Then they stepped in with their luggage and closed the doors. Meghan pushed a button labeled SUC, and the elevator whirred to life, taking them up with jerky movements. The structure of the surrounding walls showed through the slatted wooden gates, and she felt, not for the first time, that they were inside a large beast, looking at its bones and muscles.

The elevator creaked to halt, dropping slightly, causing the women to grab the railings that ran around the inside of the elevator car. They opened the gates into another bare room with a wooden door.

“Finally, we’re here,” Meghan said as they stepped out into a dirt road.

“Back in Faerie,” Debbie sighed.

“Back where we belong,” Mary added. The room they left looked like a small wooden shed from the outside. The road before them led into a series of rolling hills, dotted with trees that clustered next to a hidden creek.

Standing on the road was an open bed wagon drawn by a towering grey mule.  A cheerful-looking man in coveralls with slanted green eyes and pointed ears that poked through his curly red hair greeted them.

“Good day, ladies! Long time beyont and welcome once more. On time as usual. Come on aboard, and let me take you home.”

“Thank you, Thistle,” Meghan said. “Back once more, and welcome accepted.” She and her friends tossed their bags into the back of the wagon and pulled themselves into it, sitting on some wooden crates that smelled like peaches.

“Thistle, you got some dapples! My favorite,” Debbie said. “I hope Clover’s going to make pie!” Meghan knew that her friend’s months of eating only carrots sticks and protein drinks ended when they emerged into their summer world. Sometimes, she worried about her friend’s obsession with being thin.

“Of course she is,” the faery said, rubbing his ample stomach. “The missis is cooking a proper welcome back dinner tonight with all the neighbors.”

“I missed this so much,” Mary said, looking around at the many shades of green surrounding them. “It’s so brown and dried up where we’re from.” They rode down into the cool shade of the glen. The breeze carried wildflower perfume, and twittering red and yellow birds peaked out from the trees overhanging the road. Mary had packed her paint set and a roll of canvas, as she preferred to sit out in the countryside painting the beauty she saw instead of worrying about what she would wear to the evening party.

Meghan soaked into the colorful landscape, her eyes seeking out every detail to compare it to her fond memories of past summers. Then she frowned.

“Mary, do you see that, over there to the south?” she asked, shielding her eyes with her hand against the bright sunshine.

As Mary followed Meghan’s gaze, she gasped. “It’s grey over there, down by the mill creek. There still are trees but nothing has any color. I hope there’s not some blight on the forest!”

“Thistle, what happened down there? Has there been a drought?” Meghan asked.

The faery glanced back and sighed. “You will learn soon enough. Not the right talk on your first day back.”

The three teachers looked at each other, but didn’t press the issue. If a faery was closed up about something, you wouldn’t find out until they were ready.

“There it is,” Debbie said, as the wagon crested the hill and revealed Willow House. It was a tall brick house with rows and rows of shuttered windows, surrounded by draping willow trees. The servants, dressed in pale blue with white aprons, stood outside waiting, which from this distance looked like bluebirds on the lawn. Their servants! So different from their other lives. The mule plodded on, too slowly for Meghan’s racing heart, until they reached the front drive.

Clover, a short round faery with a grey bun, walked up with a small stool to help them down. The other servants reached up to take their luggage. They were home.

Later, after baths in rose scented water and dressed in green gowns that shimmered like beetles, they came downstairs to a roar of greetings. Faeries from the surrounding farms gathered at a long table, one end reserved for the teachers. Wine was flowing liberally, and laughter bubbled up everywhere. Servants scurried around carrying heavy platters of roasted meats, fish, potatoes, and vegetables.

Meghan and her friends quickly joined in the feast. “Isn’t it amazing how the food here tastes so much better than anything we have back in our world?” Mary asked her.

“Better than any restaurant,” Meghan agreed, and she tore into her turkey leg.

Suddenly, a tinkling bell rang, and everyone froze. No one expected the Summer Queen to visit here, so far away from her court. But that bell announced her eminent arrival so everyone rose to their feet, wiping greasy fingers on their clothes.

A flash and puff of smoke made Meghan blink, and then there was the Summer Queen, standing in their hall. A tall creature with long braided dark hair, her beauty causing everyone to squint. Her gown that shimmered with colors of bright blue, pale green and pink and she wore a silver circlet on her brow. Her female attendants surrounded her in blue uniforms covered with chain mail. Everyone in the room bowed or curtsied, waiting for their monarch’s instruction.

“Rise, everyone. Grace and peace to you all in this humble house,” Queen Amber said in a grave voice. “Please return to your festivities. Our purpose here is to speak with the newly arrived teachers.” She gestured toward Meghan and her friends. “We require a meeting with you in the palace. Come with us immediately.”

A queen could not be refused. Guards took their hands and pulled them close to the royal entourage. Another flash and puff of smoke and they were gone.

 

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Erosion

This story is another assignment from my UCLA class. We had to write a magical realism story that incorporated a scientific process to reveal a character. 

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It started as a trickle down my cheek. I was changing a tire on my sand rail in the third bay of our garage. I wiped away flesh-colored sand from my face. What was that? No time to worry about it. We were leaving for Glamis in the morning, and I still needed to load up Susan’s sand rail.

The weekend started well, as we joined our friends and drank by the campfire until the horizon brightened and the stars began to fade. Then we all stumbled into our trailers and slept it off. When I got up much later, there was coating of sand in my bunk.

That day I’ll never forget. Susan and the girls went out on their rails by themselves. Barely an hour passed when one solo sand rail came racing into camp. One of Susan’s friends took off her helmet, exposing a tear-streaked face.

“Jeff, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Marley said. “We went over this ridge, and there was a huge sink hole! I stopped in time, but the rest fell in. I helped them get out, but Susan didn’t make it.”

A large clod of dirt dropped off my back. For once, I was speechless.

After calling on my sat phone to transport Susan’s body, I packed up the trailer and remaining sand rail by myself. Our friends had just started the barbeque and were preparing to grill steaks. They barely looked as I pulled away, as I had become a major party killer.

The truck came out of nowhere as I entered the main highway. Clods of dirt fell from my arms as the air bag deployed and I woke up in a mist of white powder. When the fire fighters pulled me out, I looked at the twisted pile of metal that used to be my weekend getaway. Somehow, I felt lighter. Piles of sand and dirt surrounded me. The paramedic led me back to his rig, and I finally plucked up the courage to ask about the gathering piles of dirt.

“Probably erosion,” he said as he checked my vitals. “It happens. You’re lucky you made it out of this one alive. Do you have a wife?”

My throat closed up. “Until this weekend,” I managed to choke out. What was happening to my life? My wife was gone. My truck, trailer, and toys were gone. I felt the release of another chuck of dirt from my back as I lost myself, pebble by pebble.

When they finally released me, I called my neighbor, and he drove out to pick me up. His face was white. “Dude, you’re never going to believe this!”

Somehow I felt that I had gone beyond all reasonable belief. Sand burned in my eyes.

“Your house,” he said. “While you were out in the desert, a fire started! Your house, your beautiful house, burnt down, to the ground. The fire fighters were able to save mine and the other houses on the street, but not yours.”

My heart fell to the ground. My now deceased wife’s voice echoed in my mind, harping at me to renew the fire insurance. I remember telling her I was waiting for a cheaper quote from one of my buddies. The house had no insurance. More clods of dirt fell off and my clothes became so loose that I had to clutch my pants before I lost them.

On the way home, actually to my neighbor’s house, we barely spoke. If my neighbor noticed the deepening piles of sand on the seat, he didn’t say anything.  All the things that held my happiness—my wife and all my possessions—wiped away in a single weekend. Even though I wasn’t a religious man, I knew about Job, and I wished I could talk to him. What is leftover, after everything is gone?

When we got to my neighbor’s house, I looked at the smoldering pile of ash that used to be my luxurious home. My neighbor’s sister, Annie, came rushing out.

“David, I am so sorry,” she said, with watery eyes. “Poor Susan. And your house!” She hugged me, and more clods fell off. “What happened to you? You’ve lost a lot of weight.”

“It’s erosion,” I said.

Days passed and then weeks. I was busy with Susan’s funeral and taking care of the paperwork on all my lost things. When I looked in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. Dirt had stopped falling. Instead of the heavy-set, beer belly partyer I used to be, I was a pale, thin, balding man. My neighbor and his wife, Frank and Jan, took me with them to their church, and I never missed a Sunday. Suddenly eternal things mattered. My Glamis friends never called, and I was surprised that I didn’t care.

The process of erosion is slow. I worked hard, saved money, and bought myself a new house, in an older neighborhood because I couldn’t afford it on my own. On weekends, I worked in the garden, and invited over Frank, Jan, and Annie for burgers in the backyard. My garage didn’t house any flashy toys. They had washed away, but the core remained. I had my health, faith and real friends. That was enough.

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What is Ladies of Harley?

LOH ride

 

What is Ladies of Harley? I didn’t know when Frank and I joined the HOGs three years ago. I thought it only referred to women who rode their own bikes. Since then I have learned it is much more.

Our first LOH ride of this year was to Borrego Springs, a great destination in the early months of the year before high temperatures descend on the desert. When we met at the dealership, all the women, passengers as well as riders, received a special LOH garter to wear on their arm. Then we all got together for an overflowing group picture. Not just women showed up for this ride. Our men showed up as well. In our present culture of demeaning and objectification of women, our HOG chapter is a breath of fresh air.

Dan and Maria led the ride through the curvy roads toward Julian. Just as we reached the windswept hills, we turned on Highway 2 toward Anza-Borrego State Park. The grassy hills turned to desert dirt and boulders as we traveled toward the edge of the mountains.

We stopped at a wide overlook turnout for a break and some pictures. The vast expanse of flat desert spread out before us, a patchwork of desert tan and irrigated green. Eagerly we shed our heavy jackets and chaps from the early part of the ride. We exchanged cool 60-degree weather of the mountains for the 90-degree burn of the desert.

Then it was time to criss cross our way down the sheer face of the bare mountain to reach the tiny town of Borrego Springs. We passed RV parks and campgrounds along the way. Buzzing engines announced dune buggies and quads that explored the surrounding wilderness. This desert playground was alive with people escaping winter. In only a few months, they would disappear, and the desert would reclaim its peace.

We pulled into the parking lot for lunch at Red Ocotillo, a tiny restaurant with sophisticated food in the middle of nowhere. Another one of the desert’s mysteries. Maria had called ahead, and they were ready for our large group. After riding all morning, it was refreshing to sip ice tea and enjoy delicious food with friends.

Who are the Ladies of Harley? They are mothers, daughters, friends, and sisters. They appreciate the support of great men who accept them as riders and passengers. LOH is the heart of HOG, and they enrich the chapter with their quest to make each event an unforgettable adventure.

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How to Buy Your First Harley

This is another exercise from my Short Story class at UCLA. The assignment was to write a “how to” story in the second person POV. This is a work of fiction, and is not intended to be read as marital advice, and the persons depicted at the dealership are not real, except for that one guy:

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When you married a motorcyclist, you knew this day would come. He didn’t own a bike when you were dating since most his possessions were sold after his divorce. He didn’t even mention motorcycles during the first two years. Now you realize that all those trips to Chaparral Motorsports were not casual, especially when you remember that men don’t window-shop. Instead he lets you draw the conclusion, after he shows you hundreds of pictures on his phone, that he wants a Harley. It’s Christmas Eve, and he says, “Why don’t we go down to the Harley dealership and look around?”

You get there, and your husband has to find a spot to park between all the motorcycles. The huge brick building is swarming with bikes, inside and out, like a Harley anthill. All the workers wear bright orange long sleeve shirts, their arms and necks covered in tattoos. They’re scary but friendly, offering you coffee, and asking you what you’re looking for.

You say, “We’re just looking,” but somehow when you notice the gleam in your husband’s eye you know you’re not. He looks like a four-year old standing in the middle of Toys R Us. You feel a wave of panic, but it quickly passes. Your husband and you always talk first about major purchases. Up to this point.

Of course, there are no prices listed on the motorcycles so you have to find the guy with the long beard who nods to you with a predatory smile. At first, he’s excited that you’re looking at the newest models. Then when your husband gives him a price range, he sighs and quickly leads to their selection of used ones. Rows and row of shiny chrome, bright colors, and black leather. Some of these look even better than the new ones, with extra chrome and custom seats.

Your husband wants to sit on each one, to see how he feels on it. You play along with him, sitting behind him on the bike. Everyone at the dealership seems so excited about the bikes that you start to catch a little of it. Women walk by dressed in leather jackets and chaps, and you think you’d look pretty sexy in one of those outfits. Those women appear secure and confident, the way you’d like to feel. Curiously, your husband doesn’t even look at them. His eyes are only on the bikes. You feel like you made a good decision marrying him.

Then comes the test drive. There’s no way to avoid it because just revving the engine and sitting on the bike doesn’t tell you much about the way it moves. Your husband settles on two different bikes he likes best. One has a windshield and comfortable passenger seat with a backrest. One has ape-hanger handlebars and loud pipes and a seat that looks comfy enough for a trip to the grocery store. You tell your husband that, but he ignores you. You get mad for a moment, but then you remember that he didn’t look at the biker women.

This is the first time you ride on a motorcycle, so you don’t have the right shoes. You climb up on the back of the tall Road King, carefully placing your sandaled feet on the passenger floorboards. The backrest seems a mile behind you, so you cling to your husband with all your strength. You wish you had a jacket and gloves. The beard guy is riding a small loud Sportster, and his smile tells you he enjoys the opportunity to ride during work hours. Or maybe he’s already thinking about how he’s going to spend his commission on new grips and floorboards.

No one tells a passenger what to do, so when your husband goes through his gears to get the bike up to speed, you clunk your borrowed helmet, which doesn’t really fit you and smells like greasy sweat, into the back of your husband’s helmet. After several times, you realize you can brace your feet on the floorboards to prevent this.

As you and your husband follow the dealer guy down the road, you realize that there is nothing between you and the surrounding cars. Your unprotected leg is right next to their passenger door. You can look into cars and see drivers texting and talking on their phones, eating and drinking, and basically not paying attention to you at all. You’re holding your breath, and every muscle in your body stiffens. But no one rams your bike, and after a few blocks, you begin to relax.

The wind wiggles in through the bottom of your helmet, and you finally stop holding your breath. Orange blossoms, coffee shops, and restaurants create a bouquet of fragrance, interrupted occasionally by car exhaust and moldy leaves. As your husband leads you down a tree-lined street, you have an undiminished 360-degree view of everything around you. You remember the dealer guy called cars “cages” and now you understand why.

After you take the first bike back, you take out the second one. Climbing off the bike is awkward, and you almost fall on your bottom in front of all the bikers coming into the dealership. The next bike is customed out with ghost flames on the tank and skull embellished grips and floorboards. The guy who owned it didn’t like his wife, as the passenger only has skinny pegs for her feet. You feel a little jealous when your husband approaches it with the look he usually reserves for you. On the test ride, your husband finds that the ape-hanger handle bars hurt his neck like you suspected they would. It’s always best to let your husband find these things out for himself, preferably before you buy the bike.

You arrive back at the dealership too soon. You and your husband have to give back your helmets. There is an awkward silence as the dealer guy waits for you to cave in. Your husband looks at you, and you’re surprised when you say, “Let’s get the first one!”

The dealer guy nods like he’s known this all along, and you go to his office to sign the paperwork. That’s how you end up buying your first Harley.

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Another perspective on “Blue Horses”

I’m taking a short story course at UCLA Extension with author/instructor Michael Buckley. One of our assignments was to write in the style of Franklin’s “Blue Horses.” I decided to write from Evelyn’s point of view and add some plot twists:

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His coffee cup was still dripping water on its hook when Evelyn stumbled into the kitchen. She sighed and poured herself a cup, as black as a moonless night, and twice as bitter. Looking out the window, she knew that Earl’s truck would already be gone. Two fools on a fool’s errand.

Evelyn gently sat on the cracked vinyl chair and forced herself to down the entire lukewarm coffee in an effort to clear her fog. Something crackled in her pocket, and she pulled out a folded up, yellowed paper. A truck rumbled by, and she stuffed it back into its hiding place. Looking around at the overflowing piles of dishes in the sink and faded green metal cabinets, she wondered how she managed to stay married to that loser for fifteen years. How did she end up back at Earl’s place when she had sworn to never return? She replayed the previous night’s conversation in her mind.

“Why, Evelyn! Don’t you look purdy tonight? Sumthin special going on at the church?” Earl wobbled at the screen door when she arrived, already a few beers into the evening.

“Don’t have to be anythin special for me to stop by my old place,” she purred. She looked past her ex-husband, into the dark room lit only by the blue T.V. light. It had to be here. She knew him as well as she knew her face in the mirror, and a paper that important he would hide in the house.

“Well, come on in,” Earl said with a sweeping gesture that nearly toppled him over. “I got some of that elderberry wine you used to like. Member, you left it here, last time.”

“That sounds good, hunny,” she said as she swept past him into the house. He followed her like a faithful hound, picking up the newspapers and empty bottles to reveal a relatively clean spot on the couch. Evelyn sat down primly, and crossed her legs, showing her new stockings. Since she had left a year ago, she had found work at the new mill office, and had money for silk stockings. If she’d still been with him, it would have all gone for his beer.

After the clunking and slamming went on for some time back in the kitchen, Earl returned with a cut crystal glass filled with a blood-red liquid which he managed to deliver to her without spilling more than a few drops on the carpet. Evelyn took a sip, hoping it would give her the courage she needed to pull this off.

They chit chatted for a while about nothing, all the while he moved closer to her on the couch. Finally he planted one on her, which wasn’t so bad even after all that time, and they ended up in the bedroom like old times. She knew it would be short ride, and then she’d be able to search for that letter. Sure enough, he soon was fast asleep, and she pulled on his shredded bathrobe and escaped to the living room.

As she searched every drawer, and sifted every pile, she discovered scattered remnants of their life together. Movie tickets, photographs, Valentine cards, and stacks of past due bill statements. She didn’t give up, because she hadn’t come all this way and let him sweep her off her feet just to go home empty-handed. Maybe it was in the kitchen.

Opening the junk drawer by the phone, she found it. A folded paper tucked in the back of the drawer, behind the duct tape, batteries, rubber bands, and assorted screws. She opened it with shaking hands, the words on the page dancing in her head. “Deed and Title to property at Rural Route 2, Blue Mountain Lake.” It was in her name, a wedding present from Great Uncle Tommy. Its faded yellow pages promised freedom from the run-down carnival ride she’d been on all her life.

 

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My short story “Angry Man” is up on Altered Realty Magazine.

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The Call of the Winding Road

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If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, all that follows here will seem foolishness. “It’s just a motorcycle, a death trap,” you say, and from a certain perspective, you are correct. I might have felt that way at one time. That was before my husband and I bought our first Harley, and my eyes opened to a different world.

But this is not the tale of how we started riding as a couple and joined the Harley Owners Group. Instead this story is about NOT riding.

Once you join the HOGS, you become accustomed to riding every weekend. Your calendar fills with day rides, events, and overnighters. Your riding buddies become your family. Nevertheless, every so often, the rest of your life intrudes, and you don’t get to ride.

At first, you don’t notice anything, because the activities that replace riding are usually important, like grandchildren’s birthday parties and writing retreats. However, after a few weekends pass and you “like” all the pictures your HOG group posted on Facebook, a restlessness settles into your soul.

When you drive to work, you notice every motorcycle that passes, automatically comparing it to your bike and finding it lacking. You start to see motorcycles everywhere, growling custom Harleys with smiling riders. You’ve been busy, you reassure yourself. And it’s been raining, and cold. It’s only March, and in most other states, they’ve not even started their riding season. You ignore the longing and get on with your busy schedule.

Late at night, you begin to hear that haunting voice as you try to sleep. Riders recognize it. It’s like in Lord of the Rings when Tolkien talks about the irresistible call of the sea. The sea gulls and salt air. With motorcycles, it’s the roaring engines and wind in your face. Once you’ve experienced it, you can’t get it out of your mind. The call of the winding road.

“Come follow my curves,” it offers in its siren voice. “I will take you into wild lands where cages (automobiles) fear to travel. At every turn, I will catch your breath as my majestic beauty is revealed. Your companions wait for you to join them. For a time, you can forget your responsibilities and dance with me.”

Finally, your restlessness and discontent turns into downright grouchiness. That’s when you know what you need to do. It’s time to take the cover off your Harley, put on your helmet and leathers, and ride.

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