The Music That Made Me – Part Two: You Don’t Know How it Feels

Funny how things work out sometimes. I’ve been feeling the pull to write a lot lately, but every time I sit down I seem to come up empty. Then, a couple weeks ago, a friend posted his “Playlist for the Apocalypse” and started blogging about the political commentary found in some of his favorite music. Shortly after, another friend posted his top ten most influential albums on Facebook. Next thing I knew I was strolling through my catalog and reminiscing about the past...

Tom Petty: Wildflowers (1994)

Some of y’all are Dylan, some Springsteen, maybe even Young. Me, I’m a Petty guy through and through.

‘Greatest Hits’ got the most play, but ‘Wildflowers’ got me started

I thought about throwing the early 90’s greatest hits album with the Heartbreakers, as that probably got the most play (Mary Jane’s Last Dance may have more spins than any song in my collection) , and definitely fits my overall aesthetic a little more closely.

But Wildflowers is what I picture whenever anyone mentions Tom Petty. I knew who Tom Petty was before ’94, but he was just more of that “old guy” music I hadn’t figured out yet. By ’94 I had thoroughly rejected the music of my parents (classic oldies, Three Dog Night, CCR etc.), and had run through a sup[er angsty, heavy metal/rap phase common to a lot of teens.

By the time Wildflowers wormed its way into my life I was 17, was driving a car and had my heart broken a time or two. And that’s it, right there. That’s Wildflowers to me. A not yet adult, starting to figure shit out (slowly); who’s experiencing more emotions than just “pissed”; who’s starting to dwell on the possibilities of what’s next; and who really enjoys playing “You don’t Know How It Feels” on repeat on his skip resistant Sony Discman with bass boost.

Travis Allen Photography

If I had to pin one emotion on this album, I think it would be HOPE. When the guitar kicks off the title track, I can’t help but smile. There’s just something beautiful, carefree about these songs. I found them at at time when the world was in front of me, when I was just about to set out an my own. I had no clue about the highs and lows, the roadblocks, the joys and the pain that lay before me. But what kind of journey would it be if we knew it before we left? Wildflowers, for me, is about that unknown, that possibility, and now that I’ve through a good portion of it, its about the journey itself. The possibility became reality. Maybe not in the way that 17 year old kid thought it would, but in the only way it ever could.

You may not how it feels to be me, but I can tell you. It feels pretty damn good.

Post Script Thoughts: For a guy who didn’t drink, smoke or even think about drugs until after high school, stoner rock sure made up a huge part of my formational music choices

Best Song: Wildflowers

Most Underrated Song: Don’t Fade On Me

Weirdest Song: Honey Bee

The Music that Made Me – Part One: Tones of Home

Funny how things work out sometimes. I’ve been feeling the pull to write a lot lately, but every time I sit down I seem to come up empty. Then, a couple weeks ago, a friend posted his “Playlist for the Apocalypse” and started blogging about the political commentary found in some of his favorite music. Shortly after, another friend posted his top ten most influential albums on Facebook. Next thing I knew I was strolling through my catalog and reminiscing about the past.

I started off just making my own top ten list, figuring I’d throw it on the socials. As often happens, the muse had other ideas, as I found myself wanting to write more than the few characters you typically get on the book of faces. So, here we go. Maybe this is the start of a new series, maybe I’ll quit after one go ’round. Who knows?

A couple things you need to know about Dwight and music. Well, really just one thing. I experience music almost exclusively on an emotional level. I like angry music when I’m pissed, and sad stuff when I need a good cry. I rarely connect with lyrics on an intellectual level, so don’t come here expecting anything resembling in depth lyrical analysis (I highly recommend this blog to scratch that itch). What you will find, however, is an exploration of where I was when these albums/songs struck me. So, if you’re so inclined, stick around, and lets listen to some music.

 

Blind Melon (Self Titled) 1992

Ninth Grade.

Fifteen Years Old. Prime age for the formation of musical tastes.

I think most of us have an album or two (or ten) that we consumed on repeat, lying on our back staring at the ceiling. This is where we find fifteen year old Dwight, on his bed, avoiding his family, getting lost in drug fueled, bluesy tunes of Shannon Hoon and company.

I actually have a hard time describing where this album takes me. The emotions are nebulous, wispy, but always calm. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent with this album in solitude. Just don’t ask me about lyrics or meaning. For me, this album just is. I know guitar lick, every drum fill, every word to every song. None of it has meaning as anything other than part of the greater whole of the album.

I think this album was my first dabble with meditation. As an angst-y teen, always fighting with dad, pressured by school, and sports and the neverending pursuit of girls, Blind Melon always seemed to center me. Now, almost thirty years later, I find a lot of the same solace and recovery in daily mindfulness practices.

I still can’t put to words what, exactly, this album does so well. It’s just rock solid, from start to finish. Hell, No Rain, easily the most famous song, is my least favorite by a minute and a half. I can listen to this album on repeat for hours and get something new out of each listen.

I miss Shannon Hoon. Sometimes I wonder what he would have created had he survived a clearly troubled time in his all too short life. But that’s the thing about so many great artists, shooting stars across a crowded sky, gone before we ever realized how beautiful they were.

 

Random Post Script Thoughts:

Favorite Song: Tones of Home

Least Favorite Song: No Rain (still amazing, but everything else on the record is better)

Best Led Zeppelin Ripoff Jam: Time

 

Week One – Birthdays and Summer Pillows

OK, I know I just posted like two days ago, but my birthday was on a Thursday and that felt like the right time to kick things off. I’m looking to write one a week so I’m just dropping this here in order to bump the cycle back to the weekend. So, you get a two-for this week. Exciting, right?

Anyway, I got my long ride in yesterday. 24 miles in 2 hours on the MTB around town. I rode some gravel, almost got run over by a semi on a freshly chip-sealed road and enjoyed a delicious stroopwafel (seriously, these things are like 90% why i take long ass rides).

Stroopwafels_01
Stroopwafel!

This Dutch delight is great for a mid-ride energy boost. High sugar wafers sandwiched around some sort of caramel/brown sugar concoction. Great to keep the blood sugar up while burning carbs.

As great as these are for exercise fuel, the rest of my Saturday was full of some great but unhealthy food. I’m not going to feel guilty about it though. My friends and I were hanging out celebrating a couple of early September birthdays so good food had to be enjoyed. Birthday’s deserve some Big Boy Cookie Time and a couple drinks. Just don’t let your friends order for you or you’ll end up with this:

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The Summer Pillow

Or let them. It was delicious. I’m man enough to enjoy the fuck out of a pink champagne cocktail.

Enough fun for now though. Today was a rest day. I’ll be back to the grind tomorrow. Celebrations are over. Time to produce some results.

Training – Week 1

Swim: 624 yards (624 yard total)

Bike: 32 miles (32 miles total)

Run : 2 miles (2 miles total)

So, I’m 41 Now

Birthdays are weird. At least when you’re getting older and they’re yours.

I love celebrating other peoples birthdays; my kids, my wife, my friends etc. But mine? Meh, just another day at this point.

Last year, my 40th, I made an exception, given the gravity of the occasion, and spent the day in Chicago with my buddies eating foods and taking bad pictures. But the years leading up to 40, just another day.

Today, more of the same. I woke up, a wizened fool of 41 years, and it just felt like Thursday. I was tired because I have kids, and I’m exercising 5-6 days a week, and I had woke up at 3:30 super gassy and had to poop real bad (yeah, the filter goes when you get old, sorry-not sorry). But that’s just every day at this point.

This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate my birthdays, I absolutely do. I don’t fear them like some do, I embrace them. I feel better in my 40s than I did in my 30’s. And I’m definitely a better man than I was in my 20’s. But again, today just feels like Thursday. I put my kids on the bus and went to work.

While I haven’t made plans to celebrate anything this year, I have been doing a lot of thinking. Mortality, legacy, all that existential crap that seems to come around to dudes who start to feel old and whatnot. Mostly I’ve been dwelling on the last 5 years though.

I spent 2011-2015 super focused on fitness and nutrition, dropping over 150 lbs, running a 25k, riding a century, etc. Then, in 2015, life happened again, new kid, new job, a bevy of other life changes/excuses. Next think I knew i’d gained about 60 lbs back and lost a large chunk of fitness. I’ve had a great last three years but this was definitely the part I was least proud of.

So, in May I recommitted myself to diet and fitness. I’ve focused on healthy eating and whole foods and slowly acclimating my body to the rigors of doing things other than sitting and eating. I’ve lost about 25 pounds since then and I’m finally starting to feel like my old (5 years ago old) self. As the pounds came off and the miles increased that weird part of my brain that talks me in to doing stupid stuff reappeared. He said, “Dwight! You need a goal!” And I was like “Yeah, me, I really do. I work best when there’s a goal at the end.”

So, I figured, I’ve been wanting to do another triathlon since I did Tri del Sol in 2012. And I set myself a goal to be ready by July 2019. I upped my bike miles and I started running (veeeerrryy slowly) again. I made plans to start swimming once the High School pool re-opened and I was on my way.

But then that little asshole in the back of my mind piped up again. “Really dude? One race? That’s your big goal?”

Dammit me. Why do I always do this to myself? I should quit while I’m ahead,right?

Yeah, no. That’s not what I do.

So the motors kept whirring and I started to remember how great it was during the year I was a Road Warrior. Blogging about my journey, raising money for worthy causes. Training for things that are inherently awful and stupid because I’m an idiot and enjoy ridiculous challenges for some reason. And more pieces fell in to place.

So here’s the deal. What started as a goal of 1 triathlon next summer has turned in to a summer of them. 1 a month, starting the weekend my kids get out of school and ending the weekend of my 42nd birthday. I’m sure I’ll do the Irish Jig and River Bank Run in some capacity. But next year is about triathlons.

June 1, 2019 – Greenville Triathlon

July 13, 2019 Tri del Sol

August 18, 2019 – Ludington Lighthouse Triathlon

September 7, 2019 – Reeds Lake Olympic Triathlon

There. I wrote it down. That’s what they say to do with your goals right? Anyway. I’ll be blogging about training and stuff here. Maybe some other stuff too. And after the first of the year I’ll probably put together some sort of fundraiser to go with it, see if I can do some good with all this too. For now though, you can contribute to my Facebook Fundraiser Birthday Event thingy . I’m raising funds for Child’s Play, a charity that provides games for kids in children’s hospitals around the country. The guys at Penny Arcade started this charity many moons ago and they do some great work, making life a little more bearable for kids dealing with some nasty stuff.

Well there it is. If you’ve read this far, well I’m sorry. Not really, you should know better. But thank you anyway. You can check my training data through the link below if you are so inclined.

Come back often, I’m sure it will be all roses and rainbows. That’s how training goes right?

Training – Week 1

Swim: 624 yards (624 yard total)

Bike: 8 miles (8 miles total)

Run : 2 miles (2 miles total)

The 13th Stone

Rough draft snippet from a story I’ve been throwing around a bit, expanding off my short story Simmon.

The are was crisp against his skin as Simmon stepped out into the morning.  The sky looked especially blue today, most likely on account of the weeks of grey and wet Albany had endured recently.

His horse was waiting for him in the stables.  Sword and shield were expertly slung on the saddle.  

“Thank you Westley,” Simmon said to his squire as he took the reigns.  “Well done as always.”

“Thank you my Lord.  Safe travels”, Westley said as he took his leave.

Simmon placed his foot in the stirrup, halted when he heard the shout.  

“Simmon!  Where are you going?”

Simmon’s shoulders heaved through an exasperated sigh.  He removed his foot and spun to face his caller.

“I’ve got rounds Billie.  Same time every week.”

“Well take me with you Simmon!  You can’t leave me here by myself.”

“Billie, you’ve got your own chores.  You know you can’t come with me.” His heart sank as her eyes welled, reddened.

Billie was twelve, an age where most kids wanted to act several years old.  Ever since their father disappeared, Billie had the opposite problem. Constantly scared.  Never wanting to be alone. Borderline helpless.

“Billie, you’re twelve years old.  Old enough to help with mom. With father gone I’m charged with keeping track of his lands.  The roads are far too dangerous for you.”

“You just don’t want your baby sister tagging along while you play with your friends!” Her voice was starting to crack.

“You know just well I’m not going anywhere to ‘play’ “.  He whined the last word with mocking emphasis.

She was partly right though.  The last thing he wanted was his whiny sister at his heels for the next two days.

“I hate you!” she yelled as she spun on her heels, then ran back towards the manor.

Simmon, guilt setting in, started to call out to her, then quickly realized it would do no good.  He turned his back to home and headed north.

Billie was taking their father’s disappearance much harder than he or their mother.  She’d always had a special bond with Jerald, Atrus of Cathatch, and their father. It made sense that she’d struggle the most.  

 

Yet these times were not ideal for coddling of the young.  Billie was going to have to learn to grow up fast.

Simmon arched his back as he took in a lung full of air to clear his head.  Bren would be meeting him soon and he’d thankfully have someone a little more mature to share his journey.

***

The field was empty. Had been for the last fifteen minutes, ever since Simmon first showed up.  He was just feeling the first twinges of frustration when the arrow snapped past his year and lodged in the tree just fee from his head.

Simmon rolled backwards, over his shoulder, deftly producing his sword and shield as he came upright.  His eyes scanned the tree line in the direction of the arrows origin. Flame touched his hands, ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Simmon had just started to back slowly into the tree line when Bren emerged from the other side of the clearing.  Simmon could see his wicked grin clear across the glen.

“Good morrow to you Simmon of Cathatch!”

“Damn it Bren, you’re gonna get someone killed”

“You know better than that Simmon” Bren cackled.  “There are few in all of Albany what can loose an arrow with the skill to equal my own.”

Simmon couldn’t help but smile at his friend.  “The someone I was referring to was you. On account of my sword cleaving your skull.”

“Ah, but you’d have quite a time reaching me with that great sword while I’m standing clear across the glenn.”

“Good point”, Simmon replied, a sly grin creeping across his lips.  He sensed the flame was still ready and loosed a small blast. Orange-yellow flame sprang from his fingertips, forming a loose ball that flew across the glenn, splashing down on the grass at Bren’s feet.

Brenn’s eyes widened as he lept back.

“Whoa ho!  The great wizard Simmon exposes his true nature!”

Simmon smiled as he walked towards his friend.  “Yeah, some wizard I am, a few flickering spells.  Nothing but parlour tricks.”

“More than I can do.  Plus, you’re the only one I’ve ever heard of that can tap all four elements.”  

Simmon waved his hand as if to brush off the compliment.  “Yeah, jack of all trades, master of none. Son of the great Jerald of Cathatch, warrior cleric.  Defender of the realm. All before him tremble at his might. And what can I do? I can light a campfire.”

“Yeah, you’re right Simmon.  You are pretty worthless. Now are you finished moping?  We have some lands to tend don’t we?”

Simmon smiled and walked back to the tree line.  His horse was just inside, tied to a tree. He loosened the reigns, swung a leg over and rode to meet Bren, waiting for him at the center of the glenn.

Bren was smiling as they met.  He pointed to his feet where Simmon noted some light scorching on Bren’s right boot.  

“These cost me a pretty penny noble one.  You should take greater care with your spells.”

“You should be glad I don’t have better aim,”  Simmon grinned as he kicked his horse into a trot.

***

“Will you be staying the night Master Simmon?”  The mayor was fat, soft from years of privilege.  The site was all too common in the small villages and towns across Albany.  Charged as the Lord’s representative for local governance, mayors often often took advantage of their station, living soft, rich lives, free of any hard labor.  Their soft, fleshy bodies often reflected their lifestyle. This one even had the telltale reddish nose of a heavy drinker.

“No mayor, I think not.  My sister gave me quite the tongue lashing for leaving her this morning so I think we’ll head homeward.  I’d like to make it back as early as possible in the morning.”

They mayor smiled knowingly.  “Ah yes, and how is young Mistress Billie?”

“As good as can be expected.  She’s twelve after all, quite impetuous.”  Simmon hated the formality of dealing with dignitaries.  One had to use just the right words, just the right tone.  It just felt so unnatural.

The mayor frowned.  “Yes, so terribly young to be dealing with such a terrible situation.”

Simmon nodded.

“Still no word on your father?” The mayor asked.

Simmon’s shoulders sagged. He’d been expecting the question but after answering three times prior today, he was tiring of the discussion.  

“No mayor.  No word. We are of course terribly concerned at the lack of communication but father can take care of himself.  In the mean time, we shall take care of his lands in his absence, shall we not?”

“Yes of course Master Simmon!  If all goes well, your father shall return to find an Atrus more prosperous than the one he left so many months ago.”

Simmon smiled, clasped the mayor on the shoulder. “That’s what I like to hear mayor.  You’ve always done well by the people of Perry and by my father. I have no doubts that will continue.”

The mayor’s chest puffed up at the compliment, his belly spilling out in front of him.  “I am at the service of Jerald, Cathatch of Atrus, his family and his fine son Simmon. If you have need of my assistance, all you need do is ask.”

Simmon turned to mount his horse.  Bren was already astride his. Simmon recognized the smile on his friend’s face.  Bren knew how much Simmon hated politics. He reveled in his friend’s discomfort, as any friend should.

Simmon swung his leg over, settling firmly in the saddle.  “Mayor, it was a pleasure to see you again. It is always a pleasure to visit your fine town of Perry.  Remember, taxes are due soon. Expect a messenger in the next few weeks with this year’s dues.”

“Our coffers are full, we wait only for the notice.  Safe travels young Master Simmon.”

Simmon nodded and turned his horse to the road.  As they reached the edge of town Bren started to laugh.

“What?” Simmon asked.

“I’m glad we didn’t stay for dinner.  I don’t think I could stomach watching that man eat.”

Simmon smiled before kicking his horse into a canter.  “Come on. Let’s get home.”

***

“You know, I still don’t understand why you made me hunt down all this kindling when you can just light a log on fire with you damn hands.”  Bren’s back was turned but Simmon could hear the frown in his voice.

“The elements aren’t for play Bren.  And they especially aren’t for promoting laziness.”

“Um, have you seen my shoe?  What the hell was that if not play.”

Simmon grinned, caught in some minor hypocrisy.  “Bad aim, I told you.”

Bren laughed.  “Fair enough. You do make a terrible draoi.”

Simmon’s face changed immediately.  His smiled wiped clean, replaced by a haggard look of utter frustration.

“Shit, sorry.”  Bren’s face dropped too as he saw the hurt in his friend’s eyes.  “Sore subject. Right.”

Draoi were renowned in Albany for their ability to control one of the elements.  Draoi were blessed with the ability to reach within themselves and grab the essence of an element, bending it to their will to some degree.  

“It’s OK Bren.  I shouldn’t let it affect me so.”  Simmon forced a halfhearted smile back to his face.

“Right!” Bren brightened back up.  “I mean, like I said, you’re the only person I’ve ever heard who could handle all four elements.”

“Yeah, but like I said,” Simmon put extra emphasis on the I, “the best I can do in any of them is tantamount to parlor tricks.  I’m to be Catatch some day Bren. My father can form from fire whatever he chooses. Swords, shields, arrows. His element makes him one of the most formidable warriors in all of Albany.  Mine make me a hit a banquets. I’m a half step above the court jester.”

“You never know Bren, it could just take longer to develop when you’re dealing with all four.”  Bren was trying to reassure his friend, but his voice cracked unmistakably with doubt.

Simmon smirked at Bren.  “Yeah, maybe.”

As the son of Jerald, Simmon was expected to show signs of an element early.  And Simmon did not disappoint. In fact, as a young child Simmon exceed everyone’s expectations.  Early on in his studies he showed an ability to control fire, just as his father did. He first felt the warmth of fire in his hands at the age of seven.  When he lit the family hearth for the first time that winter his parents had beamed with pride.

Shortly after Simmon showed signs of the other elements.  He was able to fill the stable water troughs at a thought.  He could extinguish candles with the wave of a hand. He planted his mother’s flower garden without a spade.

Surely Simmon was destined to be a great draoi.  Maybe the greatest of all.

Only he wasn’t.  The elements that manifested at the age of seven had not grown by the age of sixteen.  Normally, those with elements had shown some level of mastery by the age of fourteen. Those that showed exceptional control were invited to study at the draoi college.  Those that didn’t were typically relegated to carnivals and stage shows.

Simmon received no invitation.  His parents had hoped Simmon’s ability to control multiple elemnents would earn him an invitation, lack of mastery notwithstanding.  When his fourteenth birthday came and went with no invitation, his father put on a brave face but Simmon could read the sense of failure in his eyes.  Tensions eased quickly but Simmon never forgot the first time, and only time he disappointed his father.

The only thing saving Simmon from the carnivals was his birthright.  He was to be Catatch of Atrus someday, elements or no. The honor of lordship lessened the sting of disappointment only slightly. In fact, at times it filled him with dread. After all, how was he supposed to fill the shoes of the great and mighty Jerald, Cathatch of Atrus, when he was so clearly a lesser man.

Simmon looked up at Bren, noticed the concern on his face.  “Don’t worry about it Bren. It’s my cross to bear. I’m good with it.”  Simmon paused, took a deep breath, continued, “Why don’t you get some sleep.  I’ll take first watch.”

Bren started to protest, noticed the look on Simmon’s face and thought better of it.  “Alright Simmon. Wake me when it’s my turn.”

Bren adjusted his pack to give a comfortable place to lay his head.  He turned away from the small fire.

Simmon took a few deep breaths to clear his head and pushed the subject of elements from his mind.  No need to dwell on that which he couldn’t control. Especially when he was on watch.

Simmon looked into the flickering orange and yellow of the small fire.  He waved his hand and the camp went dark.

“Parlor tricks.”

A View From Below

The following was an my entry in the 2015 Iron Writer Challenge. Elements included: A heavy metal song, A priest, and picture of someone looking up out of a grave.

“Now I lay me down to sleep…”

The preacher launched into a new prayer.  James thought the service should have been over by now.  Several of his friends had said their piece. Then the preacher had given a short homily, followed by a terse prayer.  

How odd that he’d followed it up with another.

“If I die before I wake…”

James could hear the dirt fall more than feel it.  Two unseen faces had begun shoveling it over the sides after the first prayer.  He wondered why they didn’t wait until the end of the service.

Not that there was anything to be done about it.

It must have been a stroke, James thought.  Four nights ago now, five maybe?  

He’d been talking on his ham radio to some guy in Utah.  His call sign had been W7JFQ. They’d just made contact when the 2×4 smacked him.  At least that’s what it had felt like. Then his vision went supernova. The colors had been mesmerizing, at least for the fleeting instant before absolute black set in.

He’d woken up on a table.  The steel would have felt cold had he been above room temperature.  Somehow he’d known he was dead. There’d been no fear, no confusion, just the cold realization that he was dead.  That and the quizzical sensation of having his blood drained and replaced with embalming fluid.

Then the mortician had closed his eyelids and the world once again turned black.  He’d heard everything though; the small talk amongst the morticians, the funeral directors as they’d dressed him, even the goodbyes from family and friends at his visitation.

There’d been no fear, no confusion; just the cold realization that he was dead.  That and the fact that he was awake through it all.

Now, here he was, six feet down, watching helplessly as earth poured down from above and the preacher continued his prayer.

“Exit light…”

Wait a minute!  That wasn’t a prayer, he thought.  

James strained to hear as much as his deceased mind would allow.  

“Enter night…”

 

That wasn’t a preacher either, he realized.  It was his nephew Mark.

The no good slacker is reciting Metallica lyrics at my funeral!

James swore he could feel his embalming fluid boil.  Everything about Mark drove him crazy. The little jerk couldn’t hold a job, always seemed to be high, and apparently didn’t believe in belts.  

What was it Uncle John called him, James wondered.  Saggatian?  Yeah that sounded right.

“Take my hand…”

If only he could find a way to crawl out of here!  He’d kick that little turd right in the nuts!

“Aww crap, the lid popped open!”

James saw a haggard face peer over the grave’s edge.  Then another, weather beaten figure leaned over holding a shovel.  The man dropped to a knee, pressing the shovel against the lid that James suddenly noticed to his right.

Hinges squealed as the lid swung shut.  Darkness enveloped him yet again.

Well this ought to be interesting James thought as Mark’s muffled voice mixed with dirt splashing on the casket.

“Off to Never Never Land.”

Dogwood

She’d stumbled upon it as a schoolgirl. She’d been running through the forest outside of town to escape the girls who hounded her at school. She’d run until the tears had stopped then kept going until her lungs hurt. Then she’d run even further. She had no idea how long she’d been running but she stopped cold after emerging into the meadow.

The forest had given way to the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. Her days were filled with bleak, post war landscapes that contrasted with the paradises of her dreams. But the meadow had felt more magnificent than any dream, for it had been real. White and pink dogwood trees had dotted the clearing. The angelic sweetness of honeysuckle had brought a smile to her face. A thin, silver stream had snaked its way between the flowering trees. She’d looked on in awe, taking in the blush red of the azaleas that ringed her new found paradise.

She had stepped cautiously into the clearing, not wanting to shed the image should it be no more than a cruel mirage. She had reached to pluck a tender pink petal from the closest tree and finally accepted the meadow for the miracle it was. As she’d taken in the view, tree by tree, flower by flower she’d realized this had been a garden once. Someone had taken great pains to arrange the bushes and trees in an aesthetically pleasing pattern. Heavy overgrowth indicated the garden pre-dated the old wars. After all, who had time to tend such wonders anymore?

She had returned to the garden many times over the years, telling no one of her secret place. Not even her closest friends knew to where she so often disappeared. After her father died the visits had increased, occurring almost daily. In these days of disease, starvation and constant fighting the garden brought a sense of peace and calm her life desperately needed.

Today she stood in the center of her secret garden and absorbed the serenity. The boy had come to her again today. His relentless pursuit of her hand seemed to have no end. For years he had courted her affections, yet she could not reciprocate. He was too cruel, too self-absorbed for her to consider anything beyond acquaintance.

Unfortunately he was the clan chief’s son. As such he felt entitled to anything he wanted, including her. She did not understand for she was not the prettiest, the smartest, nor the funniest girl in town. In fact she was rather stubborn and independent. This though, according to her mother, was precisely why he persisted. For someone who could have anything he wanted, the girl who said no became infinitely more desirable.

He’d expressed that desire again today. She’d been on her way to the market when he fell in step next to her. He wasn’t going to give up on her, he’d said. He was to be the next clan chief, which would make her the most powerful woman in the town. She could have anything she wanted. Her mother would be well taken care of.

None of it mattered to her. He was a pig. She could never be with someone who had such disregard for others. She’d told him so. He had not taken it well.

She had finished her errands and retreated here to find solace. She sat at the edge of the stream with her back against a pink dogwood. The scent of honeysuckle was stronger than normal. The sweet aroma always relaxed her. She arched her back, tried to work out the kinks earned during morning chores. She reached into her pack and brought out a fresh peach she’d picked yesterday evening. She lost her grip and it rolled away, several feet past her outstretched hand.

No mater, she thought to herself. She reached out from within and the peach gently rolled back to her, coming to rest against her leg. No one knew of her minds ability. She’d noticed it early while doing schoolwork. She’d been able to manipulate pencils, rolling them back and forth across the table. She soon graduated to other small items but never really explored the ability.

She’d heard stories over the years of others with similar powers. It was thought the post war radiation had some effect on certain people. These minor mental abilities manifested from time to time but if found out exile usually followed. People feared what they did not understand. Always had, always would. So she kept her abilities to herself, content with retrieving the occasional utensil or stray fruit.

She reached down and picked up the peach, wiped a few loose pieces of grass and dirt from the skin, and took a bite. It wasn’t quite ripe and the tart juice ran across, then dripped from her fingers.

A gentle spring breeze ruffled the flowers, sending a handful of petals cascading from their limbs. The breeze carried them across the meadow. This was her favorite time of year. The spring had brought all of the garden’s flowers to bloom together. The trees and bushes now lost their petals occasionally to the breeze or the casual pull of gravity. The effect was a gentle, botanical snowfall that proved more healing than any doctor proscribed treatment.

She leaned back against the tree and closed her eyes. The sun’s warmth pressed gently against her skin. She slowly worked her way through the peach, pitching the pit into the stream with a quiet splash. She exhaled slowly, forcing the last bit of air from deep inside her lungs as she felt her muscles begin to relax. She concentrated on the pressure placed on her back by the narrow tree trunk. The rest of her body began to disappear as she lost herself in the garden. Finally, even the tree trunk disappeared from her thoughts.

Life’s worries left her. The concerns that came with daily life blew away with the dogwood petals. She let go of everything and just let herself exist, alone in her garden.

Time ceased to pass for her, yet when the shadow came to rest across her face she knew she had been gone for quite some time. She didn’t usually notice the shadows of passing clouds in this state. The first clue that something was wrong was that she noticed the shadow at all. Her face had cooled noticeably, the result of several minutes out of the sun. She was mildly annoyed at the prospect of starting her meditation again. She cursed the lingering cloud and wished it away without opening her eyes.

Then she heard him cough.

She sprang up like a cat, jumping back to position the tree between them. Her shoulder slammed against the trunk sending a shower of petals onto the breeze. They fell in her hair, around her feet, were carried away by the stream. The meadow’s peaceful beauty was now ruined by his mere presence. She looked up to meet his gaze.

His smile made her stomach turn. He told her how beautiful she looked, sitting beneath the dogwood with the sun on her face. He’d never seen anything so wondrous he said.

She asked how long he’d been standing there. He said only a few minutes. Then, with a smirk, he admitted to following her from town.

Her head spun. She’d always been so careful, making sure no one followed her. This had been her sanctuary, a benefit surely to end should anyone else soil its grounds. She had years of practice avoiding followers, cutting trips well short at even the slightest hint of an intruder.

Yet here he stood, glaring at her with lust in his eyes. She realized then her mother had been right. He did not love her. He probably didn’t even find her attractive. She was no more than a prize to be won, a challenge to conquer. He could, and did have any woman he wanted. All except her and that fueled his passion.

She told him to leave, told him this was her private retreat. He told her his family laid claim to all lands in the region, therefore the garden was his. Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. Her heart ached for the loss of her refuge. Her mind raced to calculate his intentions.

He made them clear seconds later. His speed surprised her. He had her by the wrist before she even registered his movement. As he pulled her towards him her foot shot out and connected with the inside of his shin. The blow landed just enough for his grip to relax and she pulled free.

She felt his hand scrape across the fabric of her shirt as she turned and ran. She heard him laughing as she leapt across the stream. Her heart began to race, both from fear and exertion. She heard his laugh growing closer.

She expected the tackle that came next but not the blow to her head. Bright white stars flickered in and out of her vision and she struggled to regain control of her thoughts. Her breath escaped her as she landed on the grass, his full weight atop her.

He knelt across her back and laughed at her attempts to squirm free. His large, brutish hands beat around her ears in a mocking show of power. She thought to scream but realized none but the birds were within earshot. Her temple exploded in pain as his fist crashed against her skull with terrible purpose. She felt herself begin to fade.

When her mind cleared she was on her back, his weight pressed against her hips as he straddled her. He leaned forward to take the kiss he said he was owed. She tasted the salt of his blood as her teeth sank into the corner of his mouth. Her own blood mingled with his as a fist connected with her mouth. She would pay for that he said.

She felt his weight shift over her thighs as he pressed his hands against her elbows, pinning her to the ground. He leaned forward again, bared his blood stained teeth. She spit her blood into his eyes as he approached. Her jaw broke as his fist returned.

Her mind retreated in on itself. She knew she could not overpower him, yet a thought nagged at the back of her mind. Something was just out of her grasp, something that would help her.

She turned her head to the side and saw the peach.

She wondered if it would work. She’d only moved pencils and fruit before. How could it help her now? She reached within herself and then out towards a nearby rock. She heard him gasp as it glanced off his shoulder. She turned her head to look him in the eye. Yes, that was me she told him.

He hit her again and she felt the power rise within her. Her heart began to race. She realized there was much more inside than she’d ever thought possible. She threw another rock. This one hit him in the back. His hands came off her arms. She tried to wiggle free.

The sun glinted off the knife as he pulled it from its scabbard. Her mind immediately discerned its deadly destination and she knew action was needed.

She reached inside one last time. She reached with all she was, asked for all she had. She closed her eyes and concentrated on him. She felt something deep within, thought it was the pierce of his knife, realized it was something much deadlier. Her body trembled with a great energy. It welled up from a dark place in her mind and exploded out. She lost control of herself, her mind, her body.

She heard him break, felt him fall limp across her. She held her breath for a seeming eternity, afraid to move. When she finally exhaled the sobs came in terrible waves. Tears streamed down her face and her body shook. She cried until the tears ran dry and her throat burned.

When she finally regained control she pushed his limp frame away. His lifeless form tumbled onto the grass. His eyes, devoid of life, stared at a cloudless sky.

She had meant only to escape but had instead ended a life. She felt nothing for him, but this power terrified her. Whatever it was, whatever she was, no one could ever know. She would take this secret to her grave. For now though, she had to get out. She knew she would never return. She picked up her pack and strode solemnly towards town.

As she reached the forest’s edge a breeze passed through the garden. A shower of pink and white cascaded from the trees and blanketed the grass. But she did not see it for her back was turned on the sanctuary that had become a nightmare.

Simmon

The stone floor was cold against the boy’s knee, pressing against the bone, reminding him of its presence. Lightning flashed through the cathedral’s stained glass windows, followed shortly by thunder’s throaty growl. He let loose a sob, hoping the rumble would drown his cry.

An aged priest, shriveled and grayed, loomed over the boy as the sobs shook him helm to boot. A wrinkled hand rested against the boy’s shoulder.

“Have your cry boy. Your father was a great man. His deeds are legend.”

The boy released a sharp, clipped wail then gathered his resolve. As he choked down the last of his pain he turned his eyes, moist above tear stained cheeks, toward the priest.

“I am ready”, the boy said with all the courage he could muster.

“Very well.”

A house steward stepped forward, handing the boy a broadsword. His father’s sword. Candlelight danced from the freshly polished blade as the boy took the hilt in both hands, set the point into the soft mortar between floor stones, then bowed his head.

The priest spoke, his voice quiet but strong.

“Simmon of Atreus, first son of Donnan, on this day, the eighth of Tarasakh, following the untimely yet heroic death of your father as he battled a dragon, you are to inherit the title Cathatch.”

The priest’s voice grew louder until, booming with power, it filled the cathedral.

“Since before words first found paper, the Cathatch have been the King’s warriors. Theirs is a solitary life, imprisoned by the responsibility inherent in great power.”

The priest paused, then glanced at the boy.

“Do you accept your charge?”

Terror seized the boy’s heart. He grabbed ahold of the fear, embraced it, put it back in its place.

“I accept.”

The boy focused his gaze on the sigil stamped into his father’s sword.

The priest started to chant. Words from before time, in a tongue understood by few.

The sigil glowed blue.

First was the steel. Cold as a winter storm, it bled from the blade. Ice gripped his bones, traveled from hands to trunk to legs. From the bones it spread to the muscle. As it reached the last of him the steel hardened.

The steward stepped forward, longsword in hand. He struck down against the boy’s shoulder. The clang of steel on steel echoed across the room as the blade bounced away.

The sigil glowed red.

Next was the flame. Hot as the mill’s furnace, it bled from the blade. It crawled across his skin, covering him from head to toe. When it covered the last of him it melted inward. Every fiber of his being glowed with power.

The steward stepped forward, holding a thick candle before him. The boy stretched out his hand. Flame leapt from his fingertips, stopping inches from the steward’s face, leaving the candle alight.

The priest’s voice boomed again, “Simmon, first son of Donnan, you are a boy no longer.”

“Arise anew, with steel in your veins and flame in your heart.”

The man stood. The priest clasped his shoulder.

“Simmon, Cathatch of Atreus. You have a dragon to kill.”

Birthday Cake

Jason was covered in flour. He was not happy about it.

“Why am I doing this again? Come on Jules. You know I can’t bake!”

A young, brunette woman stood on the other side of the counter. Her face, also covered in flour, also sported an ear to ear smile.

“Because it’s my birthday, and I wanted a cake. I can’t very well make my own birthday cake, can I?”

Jason pouted, “But did you have to pick one called the ‘Convoluted Cake’? Not only do I have to bake, which we’ve established I can’t do, but then I have to put together a puzzle with the pieces. Also not a strong point of mine.”

Jules slid the cake into the space between them. “Yeah, well look how great we did.” The cake was impeccably iced and topped with freshly baked macaroons.

Jason smiled, then winked at his wife. “You never stop teaching me new things do you?”

“Not since I taught you to do handstands when we were kids,” she said.

“Not sure how a managed to get a paper cut opening the box though.”

Jules snorted as she laughed. “And on your elbow no less!”

Jason frowned as he looked at the freshly applied band-aid.

“Well, I helped with the cake. Are you still going to make me watch Maury?”

Jules looked at him in mock horror “But I thought listening to hillbillies yell at each other with made up words was your favorite post baking activity!”

“Alas, it is not. But, like you said, it’s your birthday.”

She smiled, then shimmied around the counter, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a giggle. Flour exploded from their clothes as she leapt into his arms. She kissed him, pressing her lips hard against his.

He held her tight, pulled his lips from hersand smiled. “Happy birthday sweetheart. I love you.”

***

Jason slid the viewfinder from his head, returned it to the cradle. His eyes slowly adjusted to the room. Soft, warm lightning blanketed the cubicle. He blinked away tears, took three deep breaths before rising from the chair.

A soft voice called out to him over an unseen speaker, “Please follow the yellow lights in the floor. The exit is just past the first doorway. Thank you for visiting Memory Cache.”

Jason followed the lights. His eyes had adjusted to normal by the time he reached the door. He pushed through the first door, then the second, emerging into daylight. His car was waiting for him. As he slid behind the wheel he turned one last time, looking over the sign above the door.

Memory Cache: Where The Past Lives Forever

“Happy Birthday sweetheart. I sure do miss you. See you next year.”