Friday, October 7, 2016


Part I

            By the time I reached my early twenties I knew I would end up living two lives: one for the world and another for myself. On the outside I projected a bright, responsible girl who enjoyed socializing and was generally likeable. On the inside I was a mess; I thought too much about everything; I over-prepared yet always felt under-prepared. My inner voice kept me company more than I felt comfortable admitting. Still, this worked for me. Kept me sane, sort of. I planned on riding this out until the end of my years. No surprise, that didn’t happen or I probably wouldn’t be writing this.
            I met Jaime at a restaurant when I was fourteen. We wouldn’t meet again until much past our college years, but he would show me how the real me existed inside a shell, between the half everyone knew and the half I kept hidden. Neither of us could have known that when we first met. It wasn’t exactly a fairytale encounter.
            “Oh, I didn’t see you,” he said after running into me in the hallway of an old restaurant. “I was just looking for the bathroom.”
            “You really have to go, huh?” I blurted.
            He looked so embarrassed, mumbling quick apologies.
            We saw each other again on the way out, our parents walking ahead of us.
            “Sorry again about earlier,” he said.
            “It’s okay,” I said, noticing his hunter green eyes.
            His parents cut our conversation short, calling out to him. One quick wave later he disappeared.
            “Audrey,” I heard my parents shouting as I stared at the red vehicle lights moving away from me. I turned around and hopped into my parents’ car thinking maybe green might also be one of my favorite colors.
            Jaime doesn’t remember that evening. I know. We’ve never talked about it and by the time I realized why he looked so familiar I decided to keep the memory to myself. Fate kept him a secret from me for so long. I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of telling me, “I told you so.”
*          *          *
            After the end of my sophomore year in high school my parents got into an accident. They literally drove off the road trying to avoid another crash that took place right before their eyes. My mother came home from the hospital that same day and said we would all go visit my father as soon as we woke the next morning. We got the call in the middle of the night. My younger brother and little sister never got to see him, but I did. His mutilated face just lay there, unmoving, ugly. I wanted to cry and yell. I wanted to say this isn’t fair, but that wasn’t me.
            The outside me knew I needed to take care of mom first and then my brother and sister. I needed to remain strong for them. They could grieve while I kept it together for all of them. My grief would come later in the solitude of my bed, at night, while everyone slept, and I would make sure to fold it up and put it away when the sun rose. That’s how the inside me grew strong.
*          *          *
            The visions started two weeks later. At first I thought they were nightmares; well, not exactly nightmares since I had them in the middle of the day with my eyes wide open, but they felt kind of like nightmare remnants. I blamed my ceaseless ruminations. God knows how many times I dreamt of my parents driving off the highway in the blue Subaru they purchased the previous winter. Even awake I imagined the barely-licensed high-schooler ahead of them crashing into some vague vehicle, my parents swerving out of the way, hitting the railing, and their little four-door flopping down the embankment. So when Myriam, my best friend's mom, came to offer her condolences, I did my best not to flinch. I told myself to keep it together, reminding myself that my parents’ passing had left a deep impression on me. Yet, no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop picturing Myriam’s pale face pressed between the driver’s seat of her car and the dashboard, the steering wheel sunk deep into her chest cavity.
            At around the same time my siblings started experiencing night terrors. They would wake in the middle of the night screaming for dad. I would rush into their room, before mom woke, and shush them back to sleep. “It’s going to be okay,” I would say. “Dreams aren’t real.” Truthfully, I said that more for myself than for them. I never asked what they dreamt about. I just assumed we all felt the same things.
            Barely two months later mom received a call from my best friend confirming my worst fears. Her mother died from blunt trauma. Myriam had stopped behind an eighteen-wheeler at a streetlight. The people in the SUV driving behind her hadn’t noticed the stalled cars ahead of them. They ran into her at full speed, wedging the front of her little coupe into the back of the semi. When my mother hung up the phone I felt a cold chill run up my neck and race across the back of my head. I even smelled the hot metal and burnt rubber that wells up after a car accident, though I was certain no one else could. Before my mother raised her tear-filled eyes to tell me what happened and hand me the phone, I already knew.
            For an entire year I denied these events. When these visions of death sprang up, I wrestled them into the hidden parts of my mind. I told myself that everyone who suffers through a family death goes through this. I made excuses whenever I learned one of my forebodings came true. I blamed coincidence and probability so often I could barely tell the difference between them. It took a long time before I accepted the pattern.
Sometimes the images came when meeting a stranger, like the lady behind the counter at the sub shop down the street. Her nametag read Wilma. I kept staring at it, doing my best to avoid looking at her face. Part of her cheekbone protruded from a bloody gash. I knew it couldn’t be real. She kept smiling, acting like nothing was wrong, the bone moving with every twitch of her pudgy features.
Strangers like Wilma threw me off because I couldn’t always know when or if they died. To make matters more complicated sometimes the visions came to pass after just a few weeks, sometimes months, sometimes not at all. But by the time I reached my mid-twenties, I knew exactly how they worked and I was used to them. When I met someone who would die in an accident, I saw that person’s death, but I wouldn’t know when it would take place. When I met Jaime for the second time I breathed a sigh of relief as I looked into his eyes and saw nothing.
*          *          *
            Our courtship had all of the romance of a children’s story, which explained why I hesitated for so long. At twenty-four I had a pretty good idea of what guys wanted. If they promised me the world from the beginning then I wondered where their insecurities lied and why they felt the need to trap me in a commitment. If they didn’t, then I wondered how long I’d last as the flavor of the month. Everyone else in between taught me about what I didn’t want in a husband. Jaime, on the other hand, taught me more about myself than I could ever learn about him. That’s how I knew he was the one.
            His patient manner soothed me. Besides the visions, I still had nightmares. Jaime would wake up with me, turn on a soft light to ward away my fears, and curl strands of my hair between his thumb and index finger until I fell asleep again. Without fail I would sleep through the night—no more dark thoughts. The first night that happened I thought he’d ask me about my dark dreams. He didn’t. He never did. For that alone I would have loved him forever. Instead, Jaime would spend the following night telling me stories about his childhood, or his family, or some ridiculous adventure he’d want to take me on—anything to keep my own fears from drowning me.
            I loved his stories, and when he wasn’t telling one, we were making new ones. We went on candy binges while streaming endless romantic comedies late into the night. Other times we’d go out with our friends and dance until our feet hurt. Every once in while we flew to an exotic city, find the highest rooftop bar, and sit there staring into each other’s eyes, smiling, giddy like teenage kids in love. Even when we argued I couldn’t help but love him. He never walked away, never disrespected me, only stood there asking for a moment while I did my best not to let his deep breaths and broad chest turn me on.
I always feared the moment the story would end. The first time it almost did was my fault. The second time was our daughter’s.

*          *          *

Friday, January 15, 2016

Jeremiah Watkins and the Four-Year Space Adventure - Chapter 4 (With Author's Note)

Jeremiah Watkins and the Four-Year Space Adventure - Chapter 4 (With Author's Note)

Note from author: I have had so much fun over the past couple of months developing this storyline, but I'm beginning to wonder whether it belongs on this blog. The story's intended audience is upper elementary and middle school students, but I don't normally share to that group when I post on my feeds. Curious about what others may think...

Chapter 4

The room remained dimly lit by Jessenia’s violet glow. Silence sat like a wall separating her and Jeremiah.
            “Are you ready?” she said, her words cutting through the space between them.
            “Uh…yes, I just…nervous a little,” said Jeremiah gathering his bearings.
            “You said the same thing last time I convinced you to come with me,” she responded, walking over and flipping up the light switch. The radiance of her skin disappeared.
            “Last time?” said Jeremiah.
            Jessenia did not respond. She cocked her head to the side as if listening for something.
            “Something doesn’t feel right,” she said.
            Jeremiah sat up in bed. “What do you mean?”
            Once again, he got no answer. Cautiously Jessenia made her way toward the closet.
            “You didn’t tell me you brought a guest,” she said.
            “Wh—” began Jeremiah, but a loud bang drowned out his question.
            Jessenia dashed at the closet door, slamming it open. Goaty ran out—his skin pale like a ghost’s. He tripped over his own feet and scrambled to get back up.
            “Omg, omg, omg, omg,” muttered Goaty compulsively. “Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.”
            “Who is this?” she asked standing over Goaty who lay in fetal position on the ground.
            “That’s my best friend, Goaty,” said Jeremiah.
            “Why is he here?” said Jessenia, picking him up by the collar. Goaty trembled, hiding his face behind two pudgy hands.
            Jeremiah wanted to respond, but hesitated. Before he could decide what to say Jessenia dropped Goaty and pulled up a flap on the sleeve of her left forearm. A screen hid beneath it. Strange symbols and lines gyrated in front of her. She typed on it with her fingertips, looking around as if scanning the room.
            “Ah, I thought so,” she said.
            In one swift motion Jessenia reached under the bed and dragged Myra out by an arm.
            “Let me go you creepy thing,” demanded Myra. She yanked, but Jessenia only tightened her grip.
            “Let her go, please,” said Jeremiah.
            Jessenia released Myra who rubbed her arm, staring at the alien threateningly. 
            “I’m sorry. I was scared so I brought Goaty,” said Jeremiah who knew he had to explain the presence of his friends in the room.
            “What about this one,” said Jessenia pointing at Myra.
            “Don’t point at me,” said Myra. “I do whatever I want.”
            “Have it your way,” responded Jessenia. The stranger pulled out a silver object the size of a pen and jabbed it against Myra’s shoulder. She bent down and did the same to Goaty.
            “What did you just do to me?” said Myra.
            “I have to inoculate you for travel,” said Jessenia.
            “Wait,” began Jeremiah, “they’re coming with us?”
            “They have no choice now and we need to hurry.”
            “No, no, I can’t go,” said Goaty who finally calmed down but still lay on the floor. “My parents are going to kill me.”
            “You should have thought about that before you came,” said Jessenia in a mother-like tone. “Okay, this is going to feel a little funny.”
            “Wait, you didn’t inoculate me,” said Jeremiah.
            “No need,” said Jessenia. “Where we’re going, you’ve been before.”
            “I don’t remember going anywhere with you,” said Jeremiah.
            “I know,” said Jessenia. “That’s the problem.”
            She typed a command into her forearm. The light in the room grew brighter. The friends stared at one another. Fear crawled across their faces.
            “I can’t do this,” said Goaty, running to the door. Before he could reach it the light surrounding him intensified then died, leaving the room in near darkness. Jessenia, Jeremiah and his friends vanished.
            A knock came in through the door.
            “Jeremiah?” said Daylin, his mom. “Goaty? Are you guys okay?”
            Propped against the wall just outside of the closet lay Goaty’s sister’s phone, the camera still recording.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Jeremiah Watkins and the Four-Year Space Adventure - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

            “Alright, the hidden camera man is ready to go,” said Goaty from inside Jeremiah’s closet. Only a portion of his head showed through the door crack.
            “Your sister is going to kill you when she finds out you took her iPhone,” said Myra who held her promise to keep the meeting a secret. She sat on Jeremiah's bed.
            “No, she won’t. I got plenty of juicy information from her texts with Cal—enough to blackmail her for a whole year,” responded Goaty with glee.
            “Myra, you have to find someplace to hide,” interrupted Jeremiah. He paced around his room rubbing the sweat from his fingers.
            “I don’t want to hide,” said Myra.
            “You have to!” said Jeremiah. “If she sees you here, she’ll get upset.”
            “She? Don’t you mean ‘it’?” asked Myra. “Does this alien chick have a name?”
            “Jessenia,” said Jeremiah.
            “Jessenia?” responded Myra. “That doesn’t sound like an alien name. This might just be some crazy stalker sneaking in through your window.”
            “I guess since you snuck in through the window twenty minutes ago, you must be the stalker,” said Goaty who smiled at his own cleverness.
            “Look, here—you’ll fit right under the bed,” said Jeremiah ignoring his friends’ bickering. They hadn’t let up on each other since their meeting at Goaty’s house.
            “Ugh,” groaned Myra who made sure to express her disapproval as she slid beneath Jeremiah’s bed.
            “Okay, shush—it’s almost time,” said Jeremiah turning out the lights.
            He jumped into bed.
            “Ow! Watch out!” yelled Myra.
            “Sorry, I forget I’m a lot bigger than I used to be,” said Jeremiah apologizing.
            “If you guys keep making noise Jeremiah’s mom is gong to walk in,” said Goaty. “You have to be more like me—the ninja of cinematography!”
            “Shut up, Goaty,” said Jeremiah and Myra together.
            The room went quiet. Moonlight crept in through the curtains, casting shadows everywhere. Jeremiah examined the familiar shapes around him: the old dinosaur poster he put up in fourth grade, his school books on the desk beneath the window, the basketball hoop shaped hamper his mom got him the previous year. Everything seemed normal, but he didn’t feel that way. He still hadn’t gotten used to his new body and he couldn’t go anywhere without people whispering and staring. Lots of his old friends stopped talking to him. Even the teachers shot him odd looks when they thought he wasn’t looking. Now he laid in bed waiting for a being from out of space to help him figure out why everything changed. The world just turned upside down.
            Jeremiah’s eyes landed on a frame hanging from the wall. A heavy shadow kept him from making out the person in the photo, but he could perfectly recall the image in his mind. He even had a picture of it in his phone so he could look at it anytime. Though Jeremiah had never met his dad, he often wished he’d never left him and his mom alone.
            The moonlight seemed to glow brighter, revealing the dark features of the man in the photograph.
            “I think something’s happening guys,” said Goaty with a slight quiver in his voice.
            “Be quiet,” whispered Jeremiah. “Remember not to make any noise.”
            “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap,” said Goaty. “This is happening!”
            “Shh!” hissed Myra from her hiding spot.
            The brightness of the room grew so intense Jeremiah checked to see if his mom had flipped on the light switch. A high-pitched whine filled his ears and then died down after a few seconds. The room fell back into near total darkness. A purple glow emanated from the foot of the bed. Standing there was Jessenia.
            Her violet skin radiated. Silky straight black hair fell to her shoulders, framing her facial features like pulled-back curtains. Eyes bluer than the sky sat atop her high cheekbones. She wore a tight, dark suit with metal guards on her chest, arms and legs. Every part of her emanated a soft, purple light.
            “It’s time to go,” she said in a voice that made Jeremiah want to jump up and join her on an adventure.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jeremiah Watkins and the Four-Year Space Adventure - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

            “Is she pretty?” said Goaty.
            “Pretty? What does that have to do with anything I just told you?” said Jeremiah.
            “I don’t know about you, Jer, but if a strange alien girl is visiting my room at night I would be freaking out…unless she was pretty,” Goaty added, a goofy smile spreading on his face.
            Jeremiah sighed. His best friend somehow found ways to miss the point of most serious conversations. In fact, Jeremiah wasn’t always sure why he and Goaty remained friends, but they had been since Kindergarten. At least Goaty had one good quality: the ability to keep a secret.
            “She said that the universe depends on me and I have to go with her,” said Jeremiah.
            Goaty laughed out loud. His chubby cheeks giggled with the rest of his body.
            “That’s what she said!” said Jeremiah, defending his statement.
            “Look, man, are you sure you’re not dreaming all of this up?” asked Goaty. “Don’t you think it’s a little ridiculous that some alien girl is coming to your room at night saying you have to leave with her to save the world?”
            “The universe.” Jeremiah corrected.
            “Whatever. The point is that you’re probably hallucinating all this. Maybe all the medicines you’re taking are getting to your head,” replied Goaty.
            “Then at least hide in the room and you could see for yourself,” said Jeremiah.
            “Fine, but if I’m doing this, I’m going to videotape it. If this is true, I could be famous. I’ll be the first person in the world to prove aliens exist!” said Goaty wide-eyed.
            “And I’ll finally figure out why I look like a geeky seventeen-year-old.”
“Better than a geeky thirteen-year-old,” said Goaty. “Anyway, come on. I bet my mom’s done cooking dinner.”
            The pair got up from Goaty’s beanbag chairs. Their body types strongly contrasted with one another. Goaty’s head only reached Jeremiah’s chest. His yellow and orange striped shirt barely covered his pudgy belly. On the other hand, Jeremiah stood tall and lanky. His clothes hung off him like a rag on a mop stick.
            Jeremiah swung open the door leading to the upstairs hallway.
            “Ow!” said a girl’s voice as the door bounced off something hard.
            The boys opened to see whom they hit. Myra, Goaty’s sister’s friend, lay propped against the far wall rubbing her forehead.
            “Myra!” yelled Goaty. “What are you doing? Were you listening to our conversation?”
            “I can do whatever I feel like,” she said defiantly, brushing a strand of dark brown hair from her face.
            “Tell me what you heard or I’ll tell my sister you snuck a peek at her diary,” threatened Goaty.
            “If you do that, I’ll tell everyone at school that you sniff your own dirty underwear.”
            “Ew! That’s gross. I don’t do that,” said Goaty.
            “I don’t care. Every one will believe me,” said Myra with a smug look of victory.
            “I really hate you; you know that?” said Goaty.
            “Good,” said Myra.
            “Come on, Goaty. Let’s just go. I’m sure she didn’t hear anything,” said Jeremiah, grabbing his friend’s shoulders and urging him forward.
             The pair reached the top of the stairs when Myra called out, “I wonder what your mom will say when she finds out you’re leaving on a space adventure with some stranger that sneaks into your room.”
            Jeremiah froze mid-step. He jerked back to face Myra. “You wouldn’t tell her. She wouldn’t believe you,” said Jeremiah.
            “Maybe. Maybe not,” she said. “I guess we’ll find out.”
            “You can’t. I need to find out what happened to me,” explained Jeremiah.
            “Fine,” said Myra, “but only if you take me with you.”
            “No way, Jose!” said Goaty, piercing Myra with a furrowed-brow stare.
            “Fine,” said Jeremiah.
            “Wha—” began Goaty, but his friend put a hand up, stopping him mid-sentence.
            “But you can’t tell anyone,” finished Jeremiah.
            “You have my word,” said Myra pretending to lock her lips with a key.
               Goaty shook his head. “This is going to be a disaster,” he mumbled.