Spring Break

Spring break! Finally! No, I am not going on some fancy cruise to the tropics or even a weekend in the mountains. I have absolutely no plans for this week and that’s what makes it so exciting for me.

I am a teacher. You know, one of those who only work from 9 to 4 and have the whole summer off… Right! And unicorns really exist. Being a teacher is an around the clock job. I may not be physically at work but I am working. Lesson plans, materials to prepare, even the simple fact of figuring out new and exciting ways to help my struggling students learn. It never stops. Then, there are the never-ending trainings, meetings, electronic paperwork, assignments to create, grade, and file in the correct binders. I will be shopping and still working. Look, the kids would really like that! Wow, this would be an awesome incentive.

I am also a writer. Writing has always been a major part of my life in one form or another. Recently writing has taken on a different tone for me. As my mortality becomes more of a reality than I would like it to be, I feel that writing is how I can leave a piece of me behind. There’s a new sense of emergency to get all those stories I have been carrying around in my head for years out on paper, like unborn children wanting to see the light of day.

Reading, much like writing, has also been always a great part of my life. Just as with writing, I now feel I have to make up for lost time. After all, there are so many good books I haven’t read yet. What if I die before I read all of them? How can I go peacefully into the afterlife knowing I left so much to do?

My plans for this week? Drink lots of coffee, read tons and write even more. I am making myself NOT work (really tough for a teacher, let me tell you) other than alphabetizing my personal library (playing with books does not count as work). Camp NaNo starts in a couple days and I am ready! My fingers are itching and my mind is racing. I am so glad it is Spring break!

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Fun House (Flash Fiction)

How can something that brought so much happiness to people also bring so much pain and sorrow? Such was the peculiar fate of the Fun House in Hallow Woods. Once a place bubbling with joy and laughter, it was now a silent reminder of a terrible tragedy. Everybody in Hallow Woods shivered at the memory and anyone who had been in the area at the time of the accident avoided the house at any cost. People claimed the place was haunted. It wasn’t possible, they said, that a place witness to such violence and horror would not be haunted by the tortured souls of its victims.

Sam had just arrived in town and remained –as often happens to those blissfully ignorant- oblivious to any such superstitions or fears. So, when someone dared him to go to the Fun House and fetch a “souvenir” as proof, he didn’t even think to hesitate. Janet, who had a bit of a crush on him, had whispered to him in a panic, “The place is haunted.” Sam laughed it off as it only added to his sense of adventure and vowed to bring back something from the wreck of the house.

The day had risen moody and full of gloom. The sun struggled to make its way through the clouds to no avail. Grey clouds and heavy fog blanketed the skies of Hallow Woods and even the buildings in town seemed to tremble in apprehension. Sam seemed untouched by this bleak atmospheric mood. At 10 am sharp, carrying his backpack (where he had stuffed a myriad of snacks and beverages) and little else, he set out to find this spooky old house and whatever surprises may come with it. In spite of his nonchalant attitude, Sam was a little taken aback at the first sighting of the Fun House. He didn’t expect it to be so- together and yet, so destroyed. The house façade was well preserved down to the colorful letters over the front doors and pigmented tin stars that speckled the entire outside wall.  Even the lively tin banner that edged the roof seemed newly painted and not at all what you would expect it to look like after 10 years of exposure and abandonment. However, even from a distance, he could guess the destruction inside. Through the broken windows, Sam could see what remained of the collapsed roof and was now nothing but a pile of broken wood.

Regardless of his surprise, Sam was determined to accomplish what he saw now as his “mission” and after a few moments of contemplation, he marched forth. He had not taken ten steps when something caught his attention and made him abruptly stop. Was there someone in the house? Another adventure-seeking fool like him searching for tokens of their bravery? Maybe it was just an animal – of which there were plenty in these woods, he heard- moving around the inside. As he, now more cautiously, approached he realized that there was no inside.  What he previously thought was the inside of the house had long blended in with the outside. The structure was a perfect rendition of a dollhouse; all front façade and sides but no back or roof to speak of. Taking another couple steps towards the front door, Sam had to stop again. The ground in front of him was boiling like lava in a volcano, thick, red, and dangerous. It took him a few moments to figure out that the moving ground was not really moving. In front of him a bed of red, dangerous looking slithering snakes blocked the entrance. His feet moved of their own accord and he stepped backwards a few feet. He hated snakes! He had once dreamed of falling into a pit of red snakes just like those and he had woken up shivering in a pool of his own sweat. How strange that those were also red snakes, something he had always thought to be the product of his over-active imagination.

Well, he told himself, he had to circumvent the snakes somehow. Since the house had no back wall, he might as well just go around the back. Walking a bit more gingerly than before, Sam gave the front of the house a wide berth and circled around the grounds into the back of the house. That’s when he saw it again; a movement caught just on the edge of his sight. He turned his head sharply toward it but it was gone. All was quiet and still again. Must have been a bird, he told himself, or a big bug. He continued walking around the side. The place was a wreck. There was so much broken and rotted wood jammed into what used to be the inside of the house, that Sam wondered for a moment how he was going to actually get in and look for something to prove he had been there. It looked like the hair of a giant who had just woken up from a fitful sleep, all tangles and knots.

Then, he saw it; the perfect souvenir. Under a jumble of wood and iron, something pasty white stuck out. If he was lucky it may be the bone of an animal. He could really sell it as a human bone left in the wreckage all these years. If that didn’t make him famous in town, he didn’t know what would. Briefly forgetting about the snakes, he took a couple long strides toward it. Something caught on his right foot and he was sent headfirst into the ground. Momentarily dazed by the fall, Sam shook his head and started to pull himself up. The movement was so swift and so covert, Sam almost missed it. But there was no denying. There was something or someone in there with him. The fog, which had been increasingly becoming thicker, made it very hard to see things clearly but Sam thought he had spied something just a few yards in front of him hiding behind a particularly tangled mess of wood. Maybe the other locals were trying to scare him off his quest and make him look like a weakling fool.

The plan was to pretend to be hurt and then, jump and surprise whoever was hiding there. He braced himself with his arms, ready to push himself off the ground, took a deep breath and counted to ten. In a giant strong leap, Sam pounced forward faster than even he thought himself capable of. In less than a couple seconds he was face to face with what was hiding behind the giant pile of rubble. Sam was never to really see what he was facing because a thick murky mist suddenly rose from the rubble and enveloped him in its cold creepy arms. Darkness fell over his eyes and he collapsed in a puddle of his own body and there he remained for some time.

People in town saw him emerge from the woods later that day, empty-eyed and voiceless, staggering aimlessly around town wearing a sign around his neck written in blood-red ink that said, “Let the dead lie in peace unless you want to join us.” Red snakes crawled out of his pockets and a great big white bone stuck out from his backpack. People stayed away from him for days until finally Janet’s fondness of him won over her fear. She took him home and tried to mend him. But Sam never spoke again and was given to wonder the streets with hollowed eyes or curling up into a whimpering ball when the sun set in the evening. The Fun House still stands in Hallow Woods, undisturbed and silent, holding its tortured souls and their secrets inside and keeping the living out.

The Angel

The rain fell incessantly over the land as if trying to wash away all the sin and pain in the world. People walked under umbrellas and ducked under trees trying to stay dry as they visited the gravesites of their departed loved ones. Some had tears that rolled down their cheeks and mixed with the water from the skies above. Others kept their eyes on the ground as if afraid to face the harsh reality of a lost loved one. Still others chatted amiably but quietly as they avoided mud and puddles on the saturated grounds. Flowers adorned the arms of some, others walked empty-handed. One carried a teddy bear and a heart-shaped cushion. Those would be soaked before the turn of the hour, she noted with a heavy heart. Death was not kind for the living or the inanimate objects that adorned their tombstones. Even flowers lost their petals and drooped piteously like overwrought souls pining for the dead.

Gracefully and serene she sat, a faint smile on her lips, a slight tilt of the head. The rain didn’t bother her even though she hoped, for the sake of the living, that it would stop. Her white dress fell to the ground in a cascade of folds, forever frozen in time, wet but never soaked, lifelike but not alive. Her right hand held a bouquet of blushing roses to her lap and the left touched the black cold stone with such tenderness those who walked by had to look twice to make sure they had not seen her move. Behind her two white wings unfolded, sheltering her body from the wind and framing her beauty with haunting grace. The Angel – for so was she known to all who visited the graveyard – had not been there long but she reigned over the quiet bleakness of the place and there was not a single patron that wouldn’t stop for a minute or two to admire the beauty of her lines, the serenity she inspired. A tragedy had summoned her there, commissioned by the surviving members of a family decimated in a terrible fire. Now, she sat on their graves, guarding them and offering them the company the living couldn’t afford to give.

Passersby think of her a stone monument to the love a family felt for those who had so tragically lost their lives; but she was so much more. For beneath all that pristine white and coldness of stone, there was a heart beating; a heart that beat to the sound of grieving humans and restless souls; a heart so full of love, she was willing to waste away her days watching over the dead. Death was lonely at first. As loved ones stream away from the burial site, there is a moment when heart-wrenching loneliness strikes. For those single moments the Angel waits, ready to comfort both those who leave and those who can’t. One day her spirit will leave that body of stone and alight somewhere else where she will once again comfort the dead and the living.

As the sun goes down on a dreary day and the mourners hurry to leave the realm of the dead into their brighter side of life, there she remains quiet and beautiful watching over those who are left behind.

On the subject of death

Once in a while we are reminded of just how mortal we are. Nothing brings that fact closer to home than when someone you love passes through to that mysterious realm of the after-death. I don’t normally talk about this, much preferring to talk about things that bring us happiness; but the fact remain that death is as much part of living as it is being born or having children. As sad and final as it is we have no choice but to accept the inevitability of it all and make peace with it.

I haven’t been around when those I love have died. Living across an ocean makes it harder but it also makes it easier for me to come to terms with those losses. When my uncle, and shortly after my aunt (the matriarch of my family and my namesake) died I was away working in the islands. I couldn’t even make it to the funerals. My grandma Alice was the next one to go and I was by then in the US, with the Atlantic Ocean between us and no money for a plane ticket. My best friend Mizé took her own life just as I was getting ready to give birth to my first child. Since then I lost my other grandparents and my favorite aunt Filomena. And more painfully, I lost my dad.

I couldn’t make it to any of their funerals but I don’t feel bad about it. In fact, I am glad I have only the good memories of them to sustain me. I am glad that my last memory of my dad is not of his lifeless body but of the hug I gave him at the airport the last time he had flown here to see me. I am glad that my last memory of my wonderful aunt is of her laughter over the phone as we exchanged the news.

I am reminded of these sad events now as my father-in-law fights a losing battle to hang on to life. I can only imagine the pain and sense of helplessness his kids (my husband included) must be feeling watching their dad slip away. I can only hope they will be able to escape that image and remember rather what he used to be like a month ago, a year ago, ten years ago… I hope they can remember his laughing face just as I remember my dad’s and be at peace.

After all, we never really die. We go on for much longer than our life spans; in the memories of those who knew and loved us, in the genetic make-up of our off-spring, in what we accomplished while on this earth.  It is life at its most basic, beginnings and endings in a never ending cycle. My advice is to make it count!

International Women’s Day

In an effort to honor International Women’s Day, I decided to make a list of fictional women who have proved (in their literary or cinematic way) that women are so much more than the “weaker sex”. None of them were perfect (thus my admiration), none of them asked for notoriety- in fact most of them were reluctant “heroes”, women who had glory thrust into them or were forced to stand their ground. They were ultimately a reflection of the spirit, ideals and creativity of other women or women-supporting men and because of that, in spite of their fictional nature, they should be remembered somehow. Here are a few along with their “foes”.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – fought demons and vampires

Katniss (Hunger Games) – despotic government

Tris (Divergent) – power-hungry ruling group

Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) – societal rules

Clary Fray (Mortal Instruments) – demons

Hazel Lancaster (The Fault in Our Stars) – Cancer

Aibileen (The Help) – Bigotry

Liesel Meminger (The Book Thief) – Nazi rule/war

Flavia de Luce (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) – crime

M’Lynn (Steel Magnolias) – losing a child

Veronica Mars – criminals and society

Norma Rae – social rule/workplace injustice

Princess Leia (Star Wars) – the Empire and other creeps

Sarah Connor (Terminator) – the machines

Juno – teen pregnancy

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) – evil and ignorance

And let’s not forget our animated sisters, Mulan and Brave

And for a few of my real-life idols, here goes a great big hurrah!

Mother Teresa, Malala Yousafzai, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony, J.K.Rowlings, and Ruby Bridges. Thank you for being  such an inspiration.