Flash Fiction: A Celebration at Holly Lake

I recently shared a small piece of writing- here -that I did in my creative writing course this summer. Here is the full, finished short story (although it’s definitely more of a flash-fiction piece).

A Celebration at Holly Lake

Tic-tic-plume. Tic-tic-tic-plume.

Skipping rocks dive underwater, upsetting thick layers of fleshy moss as they sink past. He fondles a stone between his fingers and some of the cruor brushes onto the slick gray surface. Except for the ripples left in the wake of the stones, the lake does not move. Nothing breathes. Not even the wind.

He turns the blemished rock over in his palm and squeezes it, enclosing it in his fist. Skin stretches white over his knuckles. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones—’ the singsong reverberates through the aspens, leaves shivering. He coughs a laugh, digging a nail into the crusted red on his sleeve. Chips of dirt flake off with the blood. He is tempted to remove the jacket—faded tweed and threadbare edges—to fill the pockets with rocks and sink it into the depths.

Sticks and stones. Broken bones.

His fist tightens. The muscles in his jaw contract. He grinds his teeth.

Beside him the woman lays sprawled, lovely, over a sheer piece of table linen. The fingers of her right hand brush the stem of a rose-colored glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, cracked along the rim in a way that adds character, he thinks, next to which lies an assortment of cheeses. Perhaps on a nicer day the spread would appear colorful, smelling of age and a hint of higher class. Today it is gray and odorless.

The woman’s eyelids, thin and veiny and nearly translucent, shield her irises and dilated pupils. He can almost remember their color. Was it blue, delicate like forget-me-nots, or the tint of the gray-green lake?

With a flick of his wrist he tosses the rock into the shallows, listening for the plunk. He imagines it settling into the suctioning mud of the lakebed, camouflaged. He steels his eyes toward the woman. Her lips, a hushed almost-pink, like they struggle to remember color, curl upward. Looking down at his sleeve of stained tweed, he sighs and meets her smile.

The love line from his palm is reflected on the flesh of her throat, surrounded by an elegant band of ruby and adorned with a smattering of purples, blues, and blacks. He could not afford diamonds. This, he thought, was much nicer.

He settles on the damp earth beside her, toying with the tablecloth between his right thumb and forefinger. He reaches toward the soft layers of auburn hanging delicately from her shoulders and draping over a set of scattered china plates and cutlery, chipped and abandoned by the cheeses. She leaves the loose items otherwise undisturbed.

“This was a good idea,” he says, running the tip of his thumb over the shell of her exposed ear. “I’m glad we came here.”

There is no response and he shifts to the side, lying on his back and staring at the expanse of gray above them. Huffing impatiently, his hand searches blindly for chilled skin and frail fingers, and he grips them tightly. Something hard presses into the tight crevice between his third and fourth fingers, and he feels the half-moon indent that it leaves behind. He drags his thumb over the back of her red-scabbed knuckles until he reaches the stone there—ten carats with lackluster shine. It reminds him of a face, a lawyer dapper in a maroon suit and black silk pocket square. A face like a stone.

He tugs the ring from her finger, perhaps a little too roughly, her knuckles cracking with the pressure, but she does not open her eyes. Instead she lays there, like she has always laid there: unwilling, unresponsive. He opens his mouth to speak and closes it with a snap, but not before biting into the soft flesh of his tongue. Blood fills his mouth and he winces as he shifts to his feet, ring in hand, and sidles to the water’s edge.

Sticks and stones.

Mansions and diamonds.

Things that do not belong to him.

He throws the ring. Tic-tic-tic-plume. The water ripples, submerging the small stone like all of the other rocks that rest in the lakebed.

He brushes his hands on his pants and sits beside her again. Grinning, he takes a piece of cheese from the platter. Bringing it to his lips, he sniffs: aged cheddar. He leans back, satisfied, and takes a bite.

“Happy anniversary, my love.”

To Me, Who Thought Poetry Was Hard: It Is

The following two poems came from prompts in my creative writing class. The first prompt is extremely simple: begin or end your poem with a specific number of “things”–what those things are is up to you. The second prompt is a little more complicated (but I”m going to simplify it here): tour someone around a town; it can be a town you know or one you have made up in your head; the person you are touring knows you very well, so they will be lenient with any digressions you may make mid-tour.

Poetry is not my forte.

This is what I came up with. Please go easy on me!

Also, the spacing keeps getting messed up as I send this post to publish, so as it stands (until I can figure out why) there is no spacing within the poems. The first one is only one stanza, but the second one has multiple, so we’ll see if I can make this computer dohickey thingy-ma-bobber work for me, huh?

#1: Three Black Bears 

My grandfather—

native to the bluegrass hills

of Kentucky,

riverside of the concrete Paradise—

unearthed three black bears in the coal mines.

The beasts were hulking, sooty, and chafed with mange;

stifled with rancor and smoker’s cough.

Black Lung, he said.

Enemies of Smokey the icon and hard hats.

They were the starters of fires:

little bits of cinder and flame with

hands balled into fists.

They speared them with pick-axes

and choked them with dioxide.

The cannery froze,

toppled in its cage,

and the mine sighed,

entombing them in stone.


#2: An Informational Tour of Redrock by a Relocated Petoskey Real Estate Agent

This is Redrock.

~

Those fences there—

white-picket,

cultivated cedar,

smelling like fresh paint—

those are Petoskey.

This is Redrock.

~

That barber shop with

red and blue striped

pinwheels

is owned by a man named

George Hermer.

I met him yesterday.

The bookstore, Halfway to Narnia,

has three owners:

Brenda, Brenda’s Daughter,

and Mr. Pickles.

He’s a Boston Terrier.

He signed the deed of the store with his paw

in purple ink.

I met them yesterday too.

~

See that bench there?

The one next to the lake—

this lake?

It’s painted white to match

the other benches.

That is Petoskey.

This manhole here—

this is Redrock.

~

That little girl,

blonde,

smiling,

pink Barbie tutu,

standing next to City Hall,

she is Redrock.

~

But she lives in Petoskey.

~

The docks

over there

beneath the red arch—

the ones with sailboats tilting

back and forth

in the reflected sky—

those are not Petoskey.

I’m not sure what those are.

~

This road,

this road that you’re standing on

is new.

This road is fresh tar

and yellow lines.

Guardrails and light reflectors.

You can take it to Petoskey.

You can take it to the Rocky Mountains

and pine trees dusted with snow.

You can take it to the Painted Desert

with its parched, orange sands.

You can take it to the Land of the Free

and the Home of the Brave.

But this, here,

~

this is Redrock.

Writing Blind Part II

I posted yesterday about a writing exercise that I was doing for class–one involving all senses but sight–you can see the details and my first five passages here. Below, I have included the second half of my completed exercises. These were challenging and fun to do, and I’m super psyched to be writing like this again!

6. Kitchen: The kitchen smells of rosemary and mint leaves, both picked fresh this morning. I can hear mother work them into a paste, the crunching squish of the mortar and pestle saturating the mostly empty room. Roxy, our border collie, shifts positions, growling in hesitant fascination at the work taking place above. Her tail slides back and forth across the hard wood floor, stirring up a breeze that brushes against my leg. It’s coupled with her soft panting breaths that smell like All-American Dog Kibble and the beets my mother tosses down every five minutes from the counter.

7. An evening at home: I tell the time of day by the decibel level in the house. The crashing of dry wall on the Home and Garden channel always gets louder before my mother begins to make dinner. Doors slam shut with a hollow thunk as my father encloses himself in his office, looping a Bluetooth headset over the shell of one ear: “Hello, this is Keven.” The dogs squeal at passers-by, human and otherwise. It’s the children they especially hate, and the sound of high-pitched howls reaches all the way up to my bedroom.

8. Allergic reaction: My skin burns, the raised red welts dominating most of the surface area, melding together into a singular itch that cannot be relieved. It is all-consuming. I can feel them on my eyelids, pressing against my tear ducts, the stickiness of make-up fused saltwater. My heartbeat is in my ears and they spike in temperature, fear gutting the pit of my stomach. I flinch with every movement as the burning increases. How much longer, I think, before my eyes swell shut completely? The Benadryl tastes like candy on my tongue—bitter with pity, sweet with relief.

9. Student orientation: It sounds like hell, the screams of the senseless and the unprepared piercing through my sense of peace. The words I write are the shrill voices of bored high school students: “When do we eat? Where are we going? Do you have the answer to number three?” I can smell the desperation, the sour tang of trying to fit in, the bitterness of making it only halfway. Their perfume smells pink, too sweet, and I consider telling them that it gets better, but I keep writing instead.

10. Parking lot: There is enough metal here that I can taste it—heated tang warmed from the sun. The flavor of blood and car exhaust. It tastes like global warming. I rap my knuckle against the maroon hood of a Jeep Cherokee. The surface burns the back of my hand but I don’t pull away. It’s a familiar kind of heat: over-worked engine and hot summer sun. I wish again for a million dollars, splay my hand across the too-hot surface of the car, and scent—for the briefest of moments—the air of a new car owner.

So, yeah, that completes the exercise “Senses Other Than Sight.” I have to include ten more for my second portfolio due at the end of the semester, so maybe more will show up here, who knows? Have fun writing!

Mel

Writing Blind Part I

I thought I would share another round of writing exercises that I’ve done for my creative writing course this summer. I’m really excited to be working creatively on things like this again; it’s been a while for me. I’m an English Literature major with a minor in creative writing, but due to the fact that I transferred universities, a lot of my creative writing studies have had to be put on hold until now, so I’m loving this!

This exercise is called “Senses Other Than Sight” (credit due to my professor as far as I know; I’m not sure where she got this from). You can pick a person, a feeling, a situation, etc. and then write about it without using any visual descriptions. It all must be done using one or more of the other four primary senses. Remember (and this is something that I am still working on myself) that you want to be as specific and concrete as possible in your writing. Instead of saying “the restaurant” name the restaurant. Instead of “her shoe” name the brand. Obviously you will need to find a balance in your own writing of when to be concrete and when to be abstract–there definitely needs to be a balance of both–but the more specific you can be, the more relatable your writing will be to your reader.

I’ve included only the first five of the ten I have written because I didn’t want to make this a monster post, so I will post part II at another time in the near future.

1. Cleaning the bathroom: The soapsuds taste like lemon bleach and ammonium chloride. I spit, letting the running water wash away the saliva and essence of drain cleaner. My breath hitches, forcing a cough as I attempt to extract the chemical citrus from the back of my tongue, and my taste buds wince from the sharpness of it. The sponge in my right hand scrapes against the textured surface of the bathtub, squealing lightly as it works stale shampoo from the creases.

2. Classroom: The thoughtless protests of unoiled hinges and closing doors infiltrate the room. There is a soft thrumming of vibrating machinery as cool air is forced through the vents and between the projector fans. Pens etching into college-ruled notebooks is loudest here, utensils jostled from their usual resting place in the lightless depths of backpacks to fill empty space with half-hearted analysis of Moby Dick. No one speaks, only hands move until someone sighs—of boredom, no doubt—the silence is aching of it.

3. Climbing a tree: The flesh of his palm scrapes against bark and flakes of ash wood chip away under his prodding fingers. They splinter, jamming into the sensitive skin beneath his nails and he aches to remove them, to brush them away, but then his fingers curl around another branch and he pulls himself forward. There is a warning screech from above; a shrill sound that embeds itself into his muscles and he goes still, limbs taut. He cannot see the enraged fowl but can hear the rustled clapping of her wings, the incessant chattering of her beak. “Move forward at your own risk,” she seems to say.

4. Anger: The words that spring to his mouth taste like hot cinnamon and burning cloves. He swallows, feeling them stick to the lining of his esophagus and attempting to crawl their way back up. They taste like tequila, red wine, and fistfuls of bar nuts. They crunch between his teeth, scald the back of his tongue, and he whimpers. He pours amber liquid into his mouth. This, too, burns, but not so much as the scorching heat the words had left behind. Unlike those, the whiskey numbs his pallet and he can feel the warm breath of it against his stomach.

5. Barn: The smell of manure and fresh hay is sweet with a hint of musk, weaving its way into the cedar wood barn doors. The cattle shift blandly, grinding cud mindlessly between their molars. The sheep, croaking in distaste whenever a piglet draws too close to their hoard of corn shucks, jump atop the hay bales and the stall door thuds as they scrape against it. Small clumps of raw wool drift through the stale air and Marie feels them, wiry and unclean, on her tongue.

Be kind, I’m a little rusty! Like I said, I will be posting the rest later as well as a few other exercises I have been working on. Until then I will keep writing and hopefully be able to show you some cool stuff.

Mel

Trying to Tell a Story Without Actually Telling the Story

I am in a creative writing course this summer in order to begin finishing out my degree, and one of the exercises we were given in class was to write about a situation using vivid, concrete language and sensory details without actually stating what the situation was about. We were given specific prompts within that general exercise and the one I chose went something like this: a man just murdered his true love and is now observing a lake. Describe the lake without telling of the murder or the body. (Well, this is poorly worded on my part because I can’t remember what the exact prompt was, but the challenge was not to mention the murder outright or the body as a “dead body.” The body can be described as long as it is not stated outright that s/he is dead. Sorry if that doesn’t make any sense…)

Anyway, this is what I came up with:

Tic-tic-plume. Tic-tic-tic-plume.

The skipping rocks dive under the water, upsetting the thick layers of fleshy moss as they sink past. He fondles a stone between his fingers and some of the cruor brushes onto the slick gray surface. Except for the ripples left in the wake of the stones, the lake does not move. Nothing breathes. Not even the wind exhales.

The rock, now blemished, turns over in his palm and he squeezes it, embedding it into his fist. Skin stretches white over his knuckles. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones—’ the singsong reverberates through the trees, leaves shivering. He coughs a laugh, digging a nail into the crusted red on his sleeve. Chips of dirt flake off with the blood. He is tempted to remove the jacket—faded tweed and threadbare edges—to fill the pockets with rocks and sink it into the depths.

Sticks and stones. Sticks and stones. Broken bones.

His fist tightens. The muscles in his jaw contract. He grinds his teeth.

Beside him the woman lays sprawled, lovely, over a sheer piece of table linen. The fingers of her right hand brush the stem of a rose-colored glass of Cabernet Sauvignon next to which lies an assortment of cheeses. Perhaps on a nicer day the spread would appear colorful, smelling of age and a hint of higher class. Today it is gray and odorless.

The woman’s eyelids, thin and veiny and nearly translucent, shield her irises and dilated pupils. He can almost remember their color. Was it blue, delicate like forget-me-nots, or the unfeeling tint of the gray-green lake?

With a flick of his wrist he tosses the rock into the shallows, listening for the plunk. He imagines it settling into the suctioning mud of the lakebed, camouflaged. He steels his eyes toward the woman. Her lips, a hushed almost-pink, like they struggle to remember color, curl upward. Looking down at his sleeve of stained tweed, he sighs and meets her smile.

~~~~~

It’s short, but I thought this was a cool and challenging exercise and I wanted to share it with you :)

Mel

Tips and Tricks for Studying Abroad: Pricing (Compared to the US)

Exciting news: a short post!

If you’ve been reading any of the other posts I have written about studying abroad you may be ready to pull your hair out with how long they are. BUT NOT THIS ONE! This one is perfectly short. There isn’t too much I think needs to be said about the pricing differences between the UK/Europe and the US that I haven’t already covered.

When I studied in England, the USD (US dollar) conversion to the pound was about 1 : 1.7. Meaning that every pound was worth about $1.70 in USD. Unfortunately for me, this meant that my money didn’t go quite as far when spending. Because of this, it was really important that I budgeted how much I wanted to spend and kept track of the expenditures as I progressed through my trip. The value of money is constantly changing so this is something to keep in mind also; still, it would definitely benefit you to prepare a budget in advance to make sure you stay within a realistic spending range.

For me it was more economical to eat as many meals as possible at my university since meals were included in the cost rather than dine out at pubs every night. A 12 pound pub dinner is about $20. That’s a lot of money if you’re spending it every night.

I also had the unexpected cost of clothing. I had not anticipated needing to purchase a new wardrobe (practically). Because the weather–primarily the heat–was so much more extreme than I had prepared for (it was the hottest summer England had seen in a long time, or so everyone said) I ended up having to buy several t-shirts, shorts, and summer dresses, and shoes just so I wouldn’t overheat. The sad part is that it was only in the 80 degree range. You see, that’s how hot Michigan gets in the summer. I’m more than used to it. I had plenty of clothes at home that would have sufficed. I just didn’t bring them because we were told to expect a max of mid-seventy degree weather. Oh well, now I have some very cute clothes from the UK that I still wear all the time. Primark was my best friend while I was over there!

As far as the pricing of goods and services, everything was about equal to what you would expect in the US if not cheaper, the pound just happens to be worth more. A typical pub dinner ranges from 10-12 pounds. For the clothing that I bought I found some good deals: t-shirts for 3 pounds, dresses for 5-12 pounds, and shoes (simple flats) for 5 pounds. Obviously the prices were higher for different things, but because I was on a budget (and only really needed casual clothing) I tried to keep my spending to a minimum. Coffee was pretty expensive, 3-5 pounds for a medium which is about $8. I don’t recommend buying a lot of these. Make your own if you can. Or buy tea at the grocery. Grocery shopping is a great way to go if you’re on a budget. Like I said before, prices are about what you would see in a US supermarket, but the pound is worth more so after including the exchange rate you will, as a result, be spending more.

Budget. Budget. Budget. And plan in advance. The longer you wait to make larger purchases (plane tickets, train tickets, hostels, hotels, etc.) the more expensive they will become. Keep in mind that the pricing and costs–if you’re traveling in the UK or Europe–will be in pounds or euros. The euro when I traveled was about 1.4 : 1 when compared to USD. So every euro was worth about $1.40. If the price of the hostel is 30 pounds/night then you are looking at a cost closer to $50/night. And the longer you wait the more expensive it will become.

OH!!!

Exchange any cash money you are bringing beforehand at your bank or credit union. You can “pre-order” cash from them, meaning that they will have pounds or euros sent to them and then exchange your money for you for free (or mostly free). By doing this you will save A LOT on exchange fees that run rampant at airport exchange counters and cash-exchange businesses abroad. If you plan to spend mostly with a credit card (though I suggest you definitely bring some cash with you for emergencies at least) check to see if your card has fees for purchases abroad and either calculate this into your budget or apply for a card that does not charge these fees.

And there it is: everything I have to say about pricing abroad in the UK and Europe. I told you it would be a short post, right? Yay :)

Annoying Travelers (and How Not to Be One)

Going on a trip with an annoying traveler is bad. Being the annoying traveler is even worse. This blog post is going to help you (hopefully, maybe) not be that person. Ever. Because no one likes that person. No one.

Let’s start very basic. As basic as it comes. When you travel you should definitely:

#1 KNOW HOW TO COUNT THE CHANGE. Yeah, this is a tip that I didn’t follow and it was downright humiliating. To be honest, it wasn’t even something I thought about before I left to study abroad. I guess in my mind I was just glad that I was going to an English-speaking country, so I figured if I had questions I would just ask and everything would be dandy. Come to find out, there are certain things you don’t want to ask a stranger. How to count the change is one of those things. Why?Because it’s extremely embarrassing, that’s why. The first meal I had in England the man at the cafe asked if I had exact change to which I had to respond “I don’t know” and ended up handing him a bunch of coins just so he could select which ones he needed and hand the rest back. Trust me, you DO NOT want to be this person. I’m not saying you need to know the money forwards, backwards, and sideways, but familiarize yourself with how much each paper/coin is worth. For example, in America coins for anything above 25 cents are rare. We do not have coins for the $2 amount. England has coins for both 1 pound and 2 pounds. Knowing the difference between them (and the rest of the coins) will be very beneficial!

Most people nowadays use credit cards for transactions. Even so, this is definitely something you are going to want to familiarize yourself with. Also, on the subject of credit cards, be aware that it is almost 100% necessary to have a credit card with a chip in it when you’re travelling in the UK and Europe. I found it very difficult to get around without one (I was able to make purchases but most people over there use chips so it was harder for me). If your card does not have an automatic pin set up with your chip then you are going to have to sign your receipt; make sure to let the cashier know this before you hand them your card.

#2 KEEP CALM AND KEEP QUIET. This sounds like a strange one but I think it’s a pretty important tip. England as a whole is a quiet country. By this, I mean that in public the people are typically much quieter than over here in the US. No, seriously. The loudest part of the underground is the train itself. Often in the US there are so many people talking that voices are bouncing off the walls and echoing throughout the subway. This isn’t to say that people don’t talk in England, that would be ridiculous, but they are definitely more considerate of keeping the decibel level low. This may or may not be the case in whatever country you are traveling to, so my advice would be to keep calm and keep quiet until you can judge this for yourself. You never want to be the overly-loud person who gets stared at. That’s bad for a lot of reasons. For starters, people won’t like you very much. Well, at the very least they will be annoyed with you. More critically, however, is that it can make you a target. A pickpocket will have a much easier time picking you out as a foreigner if you are being loud or not complying to the cultural norms around you.

This line, of course, gets fuzzy because there are certain places you will go where you will stand out no matter what (I’m extremely pale and 5’9 — there are certain places I just don’t fit. Literally, I can’t fit. Like climbing up the old stairs of clock towers throughout England. I was pretty sure I was going to have a hunchback by the end of it.) All I’m saying is: be conscious of your surroundings. Sticking out can be a good thing for getting a job and making friends, but it’s not so good when traveling. It is a well-known fact that tourists are easier to steal from than locals/people who are well-accustomed to their surroundings. This is a worldwide truth. Just something to keep in mind.

#3 DON’T DO ANYTHING YOU WOULDN’T DO AT HOME. AND MAYBE DON’T EVEN DO THAT. Mind your manners. It’s as simple as that. I posted about people I witnessed on public transportation abroad not following this guideline here. I think the tip itself is pretty self-explanatory. As a traveler abroad you are not only representing yourself but your country. This is something the organizers of my program drilled into us over and over. While you may not think so, to people of other countries you are a representative of your hometown, your university, your state/province, your country, your society. It seems strange to think about but it’s true. In fact, I think you could argue it’s one of the purveyors of discrimination throughout the world today. People look at a small group from a given culture and think it represents the society as a whole when this is not necessarily true. This is the reason for a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to the interaction of cultures. I’ve never studied it and I don’t claim to be an expert or anything of the sort, but this just goes to show how important it is that you keep in mind how others will perceive you while you are abroad. Take measures to make sure you are polite and respectful to everyone!

#4 WHEN TRAVELING WITH A GROUP PLAN ALL ACTIVITIES IN ADVANCE. This is something else I ran into trouble with when traveling in Paris. This is extremely important when traveling with groups so that you don’t start any fights. Fights while traveling are the absolute worst! When visiting cities it is a given that you are going to want to see as much as possible. Plan out (in advance–and definitely before you arrive at the city) what places/things you want to see and the most conducive way to see them. If you can find a map of the city, map it out! I had never been to Paris before so there were certain things that were on my must-see list. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were two that I, as a first-time visitor to France, definitely wanted to check out. However, (and this is a big however) one of the girls I was travelling with had already been in Paris for several days and decided that she didn’t want to do these things. She still wanted to tour Paris with us (I was with Rupee at the time) but she didn’t want to do or see any of the things that were on our list. This made it very difficult to get around and, in general, made the whole thing quite stressful. By solidifying a plan in advance you can hopefully avoid this, get to see everything on your list, and do it in a timely manner. If you are traveling alone: kudos to you, how much easier will that be?! JUST BE SAFE!

#5 DON’T BE A DICK. I’d say this is self-explanatory — easy enough to follow, right? You would think. It’s bizarre how many people don’t adhere to this basic life skill, especially when travelling. Don’t be this person. Never ever be this person. This person is universally hated.

Ta-da! My five annoying traveler do’s but mostly don’ts. I hope you found them humorous and helpful. Once again, I am willing to answer any questions you might have about studying abroad or traveling abroad in general. Don’t forget to check out my Stories from Abroad page where all of my tips and tricks have been compiled into one convenient list.