The Magic Book (flash fiction)

The Magic Book

With a flurry of pages, the book fell from his shriveled hands and dropped to the dirty floor. Gin followed the book with his eyes, worried for a moment it would fall in the puddle of vomit collected by the wrinkled old man dying on the chair. He knew he should feel sorry for the frail old gentleman meeting his maker right before his eyes but he wasn’t; he couldn’t. That was no frail old man dying an agonizing slow death on that chair. That was the diabolic man who had kept Gin imprisoned for 10 years.

Gin had woken up that morning with no plans, no direction. His life as a slave did not afford him any illusions or time to make plans of any kind. He got up before the sun was up and by the time the majestic star made its daily appearance in the skies, Gin would have already milked the cow, baked bread, and swept all the floors of the mansion where he lived with his master. The old man was prone to fickle moods and Gin did not want to risk being the one to lead him to one of his darkest ones. At times when his master blamed him for his dark moods, Gin almost always got beaten to a pulp and left in a corner of the kitchen to lick his own wounds. The boy had gotten smarter with the passage of the years and treaded very carefully around the old master.

That morning the master had woken up in a foul mood and Gin had done his best to appease him by serving him warm fresh bread with molten butter, delicious hot tea sweetened with the sweetest of honeys, and a bowl full of the freshest ripe fruit the master so liked. Yet, nothing had swayed the old man from his mean streak, his cruel demeanor. By lunchtime Gin had a broken tooth and a bleeding gash on his forehead. “Lunch better be to my liking, boy,” the decrepit old man yelled at him, “or you are in for a very bad afternoon.”

Now, hearing the gurgling sound of white foam collecting in his master’s throat, Gin smiled. He was still not sure where he had gathered the courage to do it but it was done indeed; the poison he had saved from a rat’s hunt a few months before had proven invaluable as the special spice in the cruel man’s supper. Watching the evil man die slowly and painfully, something on the floor caught the boy’s eye. There was a glow coming from the book his master had dropped.

Strange, Gin thought stepping over the vomit to retrieve the volume. It had fallen open and the boy noticed with a start that the words on the page were moving around the pictures inside. He stared fascinated, forgetting the dying man for a moment. “What kind of magic is this?” he asked out loud to no-one in particular. Looking at it closer, he saw the comic figures moving around within the confines of their cels. His head tilted to the side and if he was really quiet he could hear sounds coming from the pages of the book.

The boy looked up at his master, inches away from death and frowned. “What have you been hiding old fart?” he said. The old man made a sound that may have been an attempt at a reply but could just as easily been a random sound. “You could have treated me with kindness. You wouldn’t be burning inside right now.” The man’s eyes closed and his heart stopped beating. For him it was the end of an agonizing death but for Gin, the young man who had been spirited from his crib into slavery and abject poverty it was just the beginning of everything. This magic book could be the source of income he needed to start his life anew.

Examining the book even more closely he couldn’t see anything that would explain the moving figures or the sounds he could hear. At first glance it was just an ordinary book. He tried to poke it and that’s when it happened; his finger went through the pages. He felt a chill crawling from his finger into his hand and frightened, he pulled the hand back. “What is this?” he exclaimed, shaking like a leaf on an autumn tree.

The book was glowing brighter now as beckoning him and he couldn’t resist; he tried again. This time his hand went in farther, up to his elbow, the tingling chill invading him one cell at a time. Still scared, he pulled out once again.

What would happen if he stepped on the book? Did he dare try it? Was he brave enough or adventurous enough to attempt it? What exactly was holding him up? Hadn’t he dreamt of adventure and excitement his whole life? This was his chance.

He placed the book on the floor, opened and inviting. Gingerly he stepped forward until his bare toes were touching the pages. Gin took a deep breath and hopped on top of the book and fell…he fell down an empty space, cold and uninviting and he kept falling as if there was no end to the abyss. Eventually, he did reach the soft bottom with a great thump and a giant cloud of dust.

Gathering his wits, the boy jumped to his feet and realized he was in a room not much different than the one he had just come from. A squeak told him he was not alone. He turned around slowly, afraid of what he may find.

“So, you thought you had got rid of me?” said the cruel old man, sitting on a chair much like the one Gin had just seen him die on. How was this possible? “Don’t bother trying to understand it. The book you jumped in is a gateway to a world where I live forever and from which there is no escape. You, my nasty little boy, just condemned yourself to eternity with me. Now, go fetch me my lunch!”

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National Handwriting Day

Today it is National Handwriting Day! I couldn’t let this date go by without saying something; not so much about the day but about handwriting.

I love writing by hand. There is nothing like the feel of a pen and paper in your hands. I am so crazy about it, I collect handwriting tools such as antique replicas (can’t afford the originals) of writing implements, old journals, new journals, calligraphy sets… I also get them as gifts from my family who is well aware of my obsession with handwriting.

Being an older woman I just recently started writing electronically. Yes, I have been writing research papers and emails and all that jazz in the computer for a long while. Having always been mechanically-inclined I never had trouble (like other people of my generation) with the electronic world. However, I kept handwriting my short stories and my novels in paper until this past year.  Maybe because it kept bringing me back to when I was a kid and the time I first fell in love with writing.

I remember it clearly. I think I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and until that day, I had been writing in pencil. We were living in Angola at the time and I was going to a small parochial school. My dad bought me a fountain pen because I had been admiring his for the longest time and because back then, children were expected to be able to write in ink from a very early age. That was the best gift ever. I must have wasted a whole pot of ink that first week. I remember having a blue ink-stained callus on my right index finger from writing so much. Mind you, all I did was copy stories and practice my spelling words but it was so much fun; it was like magic, watching the nib slide on the paper and leaving a thin stream of silky blue ink behind. I wrote my first poem shortly after that and I have never stopped writing since.

As a young teenager I had pen-pals around the world and I wrote weekly copious letters both in my native and other languages. To check your mailbox and find a letter was like Christmas morning. I can’t even explain the feeling. The envelope held a surprise of sorts since you never knew exactly what your friends had written inside. Sometimes there was a photograph or two with the letter, sometimes a postcard… but it was always exciting and new.

I love writing. Period. But there is something truly magical about handwriting that keeps me buying notebooks and pens at a time when I mostly do my writing electronically. I don’t think I will ever get over my love for the handwritten word.

Rant of the week

Time for a rant! Guys, you may want to abstain from reading this unless you are pretty sure you do not fit into the male category I call the “consumer husband”.

I have several pet peeves but this one probably tops all others. In fact, it may not even qualify as a pet peeve. I absolutely loathe this trend of consumerism in marriage. What do I mean by this? I am talking about husbands (I am sure some women do it, too but I don’t know any personally) who think it is perfectly acceptable and justified to “throw away” your spouse and children if things are not going according to plan.

Married for 20 years with two children? Wife not satisfying all your needs? Kids not turning out how you wanted them to turn out? No problem! Get rid of them and start all over again.

It is truly scary to think of how many women (families really) I know that have been victims of this mindset. Now, let’s be very clear. I totally believe that if things are absolutely awful in a marriage, say there is abuse or lack of respect, drug problems or alcoholism do get out of it as soon as you can. This is not what I am referring to in this blog.

We all would love to be able to be young again, start again, have a second chance at doing it right. We all have disappointments in life and not many of us can say their lives turned out just the way they envisioned them. But that does not justify betraying those who love us the most, those who sacrificed a lot for us, those who depend on and need us. It does not justify throwing a lifetime of memories away for the sake of the novelty of new ones. Marriages and people are not disposable. They are well worth fighting for and those who don’t are cowards in my book.

I am ranting for all the women I know who were discarded like old shoes and begrudged of their rights by consumer husbands with no moral standards and incapable of loving anyone but themselves. I am ranting against this concept (that applies to a lot more than just marriages) of don’t-like-it-replace-it.

Marriage is messy. We all know that. Marriage is also a promise, an oath that should carry weight and have deep meaning. Not something you discard as soon as the going gets tough. Enough said. Rant over. At ease, people, at ease!

Bewitched

If you have been following my blog, you know I love reading. When I was a kid I had two passions; books and dancing. It hasn’t changed; the only difference is that I have added a few more things to that list. I love the feeling I get by reading a book that grabs hold of me, body and soul, and gets me so involved I practically forget who I am and that I have a life outside that book. However, as many books as I have read throughout my life only a few have afforded me such a feeling. Others have entertained me, interested me, and even captivated me but not to the extent of shutting the rest of the world out.

I am reading such a book right now. I couldn’t tell you it’s the best written book I have ever read but the story has definitely taken me hostage. When I am at work and I can’t think of anything else but opening my Kindle and read, a good sign this novel has me totally and utterly under its spell. When I find myself sitting in bed until after midnight, eyes struggling to stay open knowing I will have to be up before 6 the next morning so I can read more of this story, you can be sure I am hooked for good. It’s a kind of enchantment, a magical spell created with words an author wove together in a magical combination.

If you don’t believe in magic, then you have never experienced a truly good story. As for myself, nothing pleases me more than being bewitched this way, separated from reality by a storyline than demands your attention, your total loyalty. What books have ever made you feel this way?

Missing Parts

Disclaimer: Today’s blog is for the ladies. If you are a male and you get squeamish every time females talk about womanly things, this is your cue to log off this blog.

I am heading out to have an MRI. Even though an MRI is by far the safest, least painful of all medical procedures, it still makes me nervous. When I go for mammograms (which it is not painless, no matter how much they try to make you believe that) I already know they are going to panic and tell me they found something. I know I will be immediately rerouted to a ultrasound and I also know that in the end they are going to say, “Everything is fine.” I have done it a million times (slight exaggeration). My question to them always is, “We all know I am going to end up doing an ultrasound (which is painless) so why not send me there directly instead of putting my poor breasts through the agony of all that squeezing and stretching?” I never get a satisfying answer, so I don’t argue anymore.

This time, however, I am looking at an unknown. When having an ultrasound a few weeks ago, I hear the technician ask me the strangest question; “When you had your last D&C, did they remove one of your ovaries?” I almost fell from the bed. What??? As everybody (at least females) knows, a D&C is a minor surgery that requires no hospital stay while if one of your ovaries was to be removed it would be major surgery, right? (Please feel free to disagree with me because I am utterly confused)

So, I say, “No, not that I am aware. Why do you ask?”

“No big deal”, she says. “I just can’t find it.” Can’t find my ovary? Not a big deal? What the hell happen to my ovary? I know I didn’t just drop it while grocery shopping at Wegman’s  (someone would have picked it up and gave it to me right? I mean, who wants an old ovary anyway?)

Thus, this MRI. I am on a quest to either find my missing ovary (it was there a couple years ago) or whatever is causing me to cramp on that side of my abdomen. It’s a little scary and a little funny. I may even write a book about it. I will call it “The Mystery of the Missing Ovary” or “The Ovary That Wasn’t” or “The Invisible Ovary That Could”. It will be a blockbuster, you’ll see.

Epiphany Surprise (Surpresa dos Reis)

I found myself this Epiphany morning stuck at home thanks to snow. My house is at the bottom of two huge hills that become skating rinks every time it snows. I can see one from my window and it has afforded me a never-ending source of entertainment as I sit with a hot cuppa watching the poor devils who are either brave or foolish enough to attempt that ascend. Trying to come down is even worse. You can drive down the hill but considering that my turn is at the very bottom of it, you can imagine what happens to those who try to turn there.

My county schools, in their infinite wisdom, decided to soldier on and keep schools open today. I feel for them for they were heavily criticized last year for finally having the good sense to close schools when the weather was threatening to become a problem. However, they also seem to have very short memories for just a few years ago we had a similar situation that did not end well. There were school buses that crashed, others that never made it to school, teachers that ran off the road…it was not a pretty sight. I made it to my school that day driving my little car only by the power of prayer and a lot of luck. It’s almost like déjà vu today; school buses crashing, cars sliding off the road, teachers stranded…

The silver lining (because there is always a silver lining or so I like to think), you ask? I am home and I am finding out about the joy of writing sprints. It amazes me what your creative mind can come up with in such a short period of time. Just as I think, “I don’t know what else to write” my brain comes up with something else. Sometimes it’s a dud but most of the time it’s something that is already or can turn (with a little revision and editing) into something great.

I may never get published but these past few months of writing just for the pleasure of creating something new and unique have been so much fun and so full-filling. I am a happy camper. So, as I sit at my laptop, Bolo Rei (see picture. My mouth is watering) rising in the kitchen (Portuguese traditional sweet bread for the Feast of the Epiphany, or like we call it Dia dos Reis ), and three sprints already completed, I feel awesome. Now, if I could retire early and dedicate all my time to reading and writing…

Goodbye Christmas Break

I have never been much of a lady of leisure (some may argue that I have never been much of a lady but that’s a matter of opinion) always preferring to work than being left to my own devices. I am not sure what changed, maybe it’s just old age setting in, but these two weeks of vacation changed my mind. I LOVE not having to go to work, I love having free time to not only do the daily necessary chores but time to go and have a leisurely cup of coffee, read a book in peace, go to yoga every morning and, best of all, be able to write and write and write some more.

I have tried to steal some moments at work during my lunch hour (whoever thought of that name for a 25 minute lunch break? In my country a 25 minute lunch break is called a coffee break; time to savor a good espresso and a sweet pastry; not a full lunch), sandwich on one hand, attempting one-hand typing on my keyboard… by the time I finish a sentence, it’s time to wrap it up and go back to work. It just doesn’t work.

I am planning some write-ins with friends and some writing sprints with other like-minded people for the next few weeks but I am going to miss having the luxury of just sitting for a couple hours a day and lose myself in my imaginary worlds of wonder and words. What do you do to keep up with your writing during a work week?

Things that make me happy

I start today a weekly blog where I intend to talk about or show things that make me happy. I start with art . Most art makes me happy but, of course, I have my favorites. So today I am focusing on one of my favorite artists of all times, Vermeer. Enjoy the pictures with their beautiful peaceful light and tell me what are things that make you happy.

.earring            milkmaid      -girl-reading-a-letter-by-an-open-window-johannes-vermeerTheLaceMaker

The Grass is Always Greener…

Recently a friend said that if she had to talk about her life it would be a very boring talk, because nothing exciting had ever happened to her. She is not the only one that feels like that about her own life. The truth is that there is no such thing as a boring life or an exciting life. We measure boredom or excitement by what is either common to us or very different. Allow me to explain: someone who lived all her/his life in Paris won’t think that living there is that exciting. For her/him Paris is just where home is and probably thought of as boring. For this individual, living in a white fenced little house in Middle America may be as exciting as Paris would be for you or me.

I always thought I had the most boring life imaginable even though I had lived in several different places in Africa, had lived through a couple bad earthquakes, witnessed an “end-of-the-world” event (long story, maybe for another time), lived through a political coup, and had talked  to Ironside’s Raymond Burr at an airport on an island in the middle of the Atlantic (mind you, at that time I had no idea who he was) by the time I was only 10. I didn’t realize that my life was indeed exciting if viewed by somebody else’s eyes until I had a casual conversation with an old schoolmate (I will call her “She”) on a train heading to college. It kind of went like this:

She: I am so excited. I am going out of town this weekend with a couple friends. Can’t wait.

Me (jealous she was going to have such an exciting weekend): I am just going to spend it with my parents and my sister.

She: We are going to spend the weekend in their house by the beach. It’s about 100 miles from here.

Me: That’s so exciting.

She (probably just trying to be nice): So, where are your parents and sister?

Me: In Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo for those of you who are geographically challenged). I go there every other weekend.

She (shock in her face): Kinshasa?? The one in Africa? You are going there over the weekend?

Me: Yes, I go there a lot. No big deal.

She: No big deal???? Hell, here I am excited that I am going to get in a car and drive a little over an hour to spend the weekend with a couple friends and you are going to get on a plane, fly for 7 hours and spend the weekend in Africa!!!

Moral of the story? The grass is always greener on the other side. Or at least, it looks like it is. So, instead of spending your life thinking your life is boring, take a hard look at it and appreciate it, enjoy it, relish in all the little and not so little experiences it affords you and learn from them. That’s what excitement really is. We all have stories to tell, life experiences to share. Like the wise Forest Gump is famous for saying, “life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you gonna get”. So enjoy it to the fullest!

2014

This is the time of the year when we tend to look back and examine what went right and what needs improvement. It is also the time of the year when you count your blessings. So, today I will count my blessings.

Life for me has been just slightly south of crazy for the past ten years, so the less-crazy stuff sticks out like a sore thumb out of everyday madness. There were some very cool things that happened this year (within my tiny micro-ecosystem) that I would like to record for posterity (you never know; 200 years from now someone may look at my blog and make it part of history).

I am forever grateful at the One Above for making 2014 the year when my sister finally got her chance to show how creative and successful she can be. I just hope she realizes how amazing she is and is able to take comfort in that. I love you.

My wonderful book club ladies (both clubs) who provided me with company, like mindedness, and an excuse (not to mention prodding) to read beyond what I normally would read. I have been having so much fun and I am so grateful to finally have someone I can talk to about one of the loves of my life. Thank you ladies!

What can I say about Sippy Cups and Semantics? You guys ROCK!!!! I think I have dreamed of being part of this group since I was a kid. Thanks to you I am writing again, something I had put on the back burner for a long time. I am also for the first time in 20 years actually considering going for publication.

Then, there is NaNoWriMo. I kind of stumbled on it this year thanks to the above mentioned amazing Sippy Cuppers and (I am sure I sound seriously geeky saying this) thanks to it I had the best November of my life. It was the best creative exercise of my life and provided me with a sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt in years. It was almost like I had given birth again except this time, the baby was a novel. I learned a lot about myself during that month. I learned that I work better with a deadline above my head. I also learned that to be an effective writer (who also works full time and has a family) you do have to make some sacrifices like writing through terrible headaches or staying up way past you have turned into a pumpkin.

So, here’s for a creative year and hopes of an equally (or even better) creative new year in 2015.  Thank you to all of you who made this year a memorable one for me. Happy New Year.