Camping ahead of a subtropical depression – what’s the worst that could happen?

Camping ahead of a subtropical depression - what's the worst that could happen? - www.alliepottswrites.comThe crunch of gravel in between pelts of rainfall. That’s what woke me up. Dawn was still far away as evidenced by the lack of light that penetrated through the thin fabric of our tent.

Though the hour was late, my eyes were wide open and sleep would not be returning soon. Had the noise outside been only a dream? I strained my ears.

Crunch.

The sound of rocks being turned underfoot was unmistakable and could only mean one thing – our campsite had an uninvited visitor.

Careful to not make too much sound, I shifted while I recalled the grounds manager’s warning from earlier that day. “Make sure you put your foodstuffs in your car and lock them up at night,” she’d said. “A bear has been hanging out not too far away.”

Had we not secured it all?

The patter of rain on the tent’s rooftop increased, though a second tent frame, covered by a tarp, hung over the campsite’s picnic table. The storm wouldn’t be driving our uninvited guest away.

Or is it guests?

The view behind Moore Cove Falls, NC

The view from behind Moore Cove Falls, NC – If only I’d been listening to this

Her Royal Highness, who had rolled her body into a ball next to my knees snored. If something dangerous was out there, she’d know it, right?  I told myself, followed by Some guard dog she’s proven to be. Still, I was glad enough for her lack of consciousness at the moment having no desire to invite any more of the wildlife’s attention than we already had with an over defensive response.

The rain continued to fall. Thunder rolled in the distance. I held my breath – and listened.

Drip. Drip. Drop. The storm began to taper off without a recurrence of the gravel’s crunch. Had our guest moved on? I couldn’t tell.

Her Royal Highness woke and went to the edge of my sleeping mat where she began to cough and make a retching noise sure to wake the other sleepers. The mountain air must not be agreeing with her tummy.

I looked at the ceiling. Tap. Tap. Would this rain ever end? I looked at the window. I hadn’t dared unzip the flap before. My husband shifted – fast asleep – oblivious to it all.

Her Royal Highness’s retching continued.

Was I willing to risk taking her outside or was I willing to sleep in a tent one more night christened with her sick-up?

Her Royal Highness moved to the tent door, facing away from the picnic area, and touched the corner with her nose. She’d cleverly managed to figure out how its zippers worked earlier in the day to the delight of our children and appeared to be willing to do so again. Perhaps the choice wasn’t entirely mine to make after all.

Her Royal Highness Goes Camping - www.alliepottwrites.com

Her Royal Highness enjoys camping in style

Hoping to hope not to bump into our uninvited guest (who’d only grown larger in my imagination by the second), I ran out with her into the night’s storm, staying close enough to grab her shoulder and force her back inside if I so much as heard a twig snap from the area on the other side of the tent. Rain soaked my shirt as Her Royal Highness stopped coughing and began to sniff around.

I waited.

She took a few steps forward, squatted, turned around and ran back inside.

All that fuss for that?

I followed her in a flash and zipped the door and its flimsy protection closed once more. I huddled under my blanket as Her Royal Highness sprawled out across my legs.

Drip…Drip… The drops of water fell softer – lighter – and somehow sleep managed to find me once more.

Even so, I was the first to wake the following morning. I opened the flap and stepped toward the picnic table – sure and yet uncertain of what exactly I might find.

A box of pre-packaged brownies lay on its side with the corner of the box ripped open and much of its contents removed. While we had taken our cooler to the truck the night before when the rain began, we must have missed it under the table.

I heard my stepdad, who had camped with us, tell my boys the damage was from a raccoon. That was smart thinking on his part, I thought. The boys wouldn’t make us leave our vacation early for a raccoon. I whispered to my husband. “I heard it last night. Sounded big. Like a bear.”

I started picking up. A pile of paper plates, still in their plastic wrapper, had been turned upside down. Something had tried to open the package. I took the plates to my husband to show evidence of the visitor’s claw.

Except that’s when I noticed it was not one claw mark, but two.

Two tiny holes from claws attached to finger-shaped paws.

Paws belonging to creatures who like to wash their food.

Creatures who must like to eat their snacks on plates too and animals who had most likely experienced the fright of their night when Her Royal Highness and I suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a downpour. I guess my stepdad hadn’t told my kids a story after all.

We joked about the party those raccoons must have had that night while we spent the daylight hiking. When evening came, we made sure to do a better job of securing our belongings. We’d learned our lesson. If the raccoons did come back they would find their party hosts much less accommodating than their native surroundings.

We had a great time and thanks to all that rain the waterfalls were spectacular. Had the lack of sleep, the late night visitors, or storm put me off camping again like this in the future? Absolutely not – we’re not exactly backpacking. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Looking Glass Falls, NC - www.alliepottswrites.com

Can you imagine having this in your backyard? (Looking Glass Falls)

#ShortStory Saturday’s Flash Fiction Fun with The Writer’s Toolbox – Part Eight

I love to use The Writer’s Toolbox (affiliate link) and its creative games, even if they always cause me to end on a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, all games must come to an end. While I may choose to revisit these characters one day and continue their story, the following is a conclusion to this particular series.

Once again I would like to thank Jamie Cat Callan of the Writer’s Toolbox for sponsoring the original posts, in spite of them going a little dark, and for creating such a fun and easy tool for priming the creative process. 

May you all have a safe and happy new year.

To read from the beginning, visit the first post here.


A Writers Toolbox #ShortStory - conclusion - www.alliepottswrites.com

An ear-piercing squeal jarred Margaret back from the darkness. As another dose of adrenaline spiked her bloodstream, her vision cleared enough to see the unguarded doorway. Thoughts were difficult to string together. Margaret didn’t need them. Animalistic instinct took over.

She could sense an overwhelming pain as she pulled herself out of the chair, but it was as if the pain belonged to someone else. One foot dragged behind the other as she crossed the room. She barely noticed. A man’s voice complained about a sticky wheel in the background. It was all she needed to fuel the urge to get away.

The knob turned in her hand, opening to a kitchen staffed by many who’d long since learned to turn a blind eye to the goings-on of the back room. All it would take one to raise the alarm. Though it was empty, she dropped to the ground. The brown tile floor bit into her knees as she crawled through the narrow pathways separating the stainless counter-tops.

She glanced over her shoulder. Her captors had not yet noticed her disappearance. A trail of red marked her progress. Margaret risked rising up into a crouch as she looked around the kitchen for anything that might aid in her escape.

Aprons marred with spots of gray from contact with grease hung from a line of hooks on the wall. A pair of rags draped over the edge of an industrial sink within easy reach.

She grabbed the rags scented thick with bleach and tied one around her largest wound. Margaret tried used the other to wipe away the trail leading to her but only managed to create a pink blur. Wrapping the rest of her body with one of the aprons, she made her way toward the swinging door of the kitchen’s exit, hoping the disguise would be enough to keep her from being noticed.

A foursome blocked her final path to freedom.

One of the four spotted her. “Daisy?” His face drained of color. “You were here this whole time?”

“Out of my way Bill,” Margaret growled. Muddled thoughts continued to swirl, forbidding her from letting her guard down. It didn’t matter if he was her brother. If he was here, he could be one of them. She couldn’t afford to lose her edge now. Not when she was so close.

One of the others raced to her side, pulling her into a crushing embrace that made her eyes water. “I thought I lost you.” He relaxed his hold. “I mean, I thought we lost you.”

The warmth of his arms was unbearable. “Not you too, Larry,” Margaret whimpered as tears filled her vision. “Let me go.” She fought against his hold as a new sort of pain entered into the mix.

Her brother’s best friend released her with wide eyes. Larry’s gaze dropped to the apron, now spotted with pink as well as gray. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He took another step back. “I’d never–I’m not–”

Light spilled into the dining room as the kitchen door swung open once more. Margaret didn’t have to turn to know that a large man stood on the other side. She screamed as she attempted to push past Larry, only to be caught by her brother as her legs gave out.

“Donald.” The woman standing closest to Bill smiled, stepping between them and the man. “If you are here, does that mean Frank is close by?” The woman’s voice was smoke and honey. “Ah, there’s my favorite artist.”

“Laurie?” A voice that would haunt Margaret’s dreams, spoke up from behind the large man. “And here I thought you still held hard feelings.”

“Tough day at the office?”

The man shrugged. “I’ve had better. Speaking of work,” He nodded in Margaret’s direction. “I’ve got a delivery to make, but if that past business is behind us… Afterward it can be like before.”

“Oh, I’ve learned a lot since then,” the woman practically purred. She reached into her purse and rummaged around until she pulled out a tube of lip gloss. She coated her lips in slow meaningful strokes as she crossed the room before pulling Frank’s head down to meet his lips with hers.

Frank broke the kiss first. “Now that’s my kind of hello.”

Laurie shrugged. “If you say so.” She walked to Donald and kissed him on the cheek. “I choose to think of it as goodbye.” She returned to Bill’s side.

Frank grabbed at his throat as bloated hives broke out across purpling skin. Donald scratched his cheek where Laurie kissed him, then clawed at his pockets before similarly turning red followed by blue.

“Looking for this?” Laurie asked brandishing a tube in one hand as both men dropped to the ground. Gone was the warmth from her voice. “I keep a package of peanuts in my purse, to keep my metabolism up while dieting. Good for me, but bad for those with allergies.” She let the injection tool taken from Donald’s pocket fall to the ground and crushed it under a shoe. She looked down at the men gasping for breath on the floor. “The next time either of you see Leslie, be sure to tell him I can too act.”

Returning her attention back to the group she smiled. “It is time we all enjoyed a change of scenery, don’t you think?”

Margaret was reminded of their childhood as her older brother scooped her up and carried her out of the diner. Police cars raced by in the direction of Leslie’s penthouse. She’d traded more than cooking tips at the class in Duluth. Her lips turned up as she allowed the darkness take over once more. And now, the scenery wasn’t the only thing that would be changing.

#ShortStory Saturday’s Flash Fiction Fun with The Writer’s Toolbox – Part Seven

As much as I absolutely love to use The Writer’s Toolbox (affiliate links are included in this post for your convenience), I have found it always makes me end on a cliff-hanger. As I am curious as to the story’s end (and hope you are too), I have decided to continue the series with a few more posts. While these posts are not sponsored and do not conform to the rules of the game, I hope you enjoy them all the same.

If you’d prefer to start from the beginning, you can read the first post here.


A Writers-toolbox inspired short story - www.alliepottswrites.com

A crimson ribbon swirled in the sink as Frank rinsed off the tools of his trade. He twisted the faucet knob, slowing the flow of water to allow the color to expand and formed intricate shapes before contracting once more and disappearing down the drain. He sighed as the water ran clear. As much as he tried, he could never quite capture the raw beauty created by the drowning art on his canvas with paint.

A grunt behind him reminded him of the task at hand. Frank turned to his partner, Donald, who was still standing guard by the door. “The girl’s tougher than she looks,” he gestured at the crumpled figure in the chair. “Stupid — but tough. Leslie isn’t going to be happy.”

Donald didn’t need a tongue to tell Frank his feelings on the subject. The expression on his face spoke volumes enough.

Frank looked at the girl again. “Guess there’s nothing left to do but clean up.” The girl. Margaret was her name. Emphasis on was, Frank thought as he shook his head. He remembered how she’d looked when she’d arrived with eyes that flashed between hope and fear. And those pouty lips.., he savored the thought as he would a snifter full of high-end brandy later that night. At one point he’d found himself almost ready to believe her. He shrugged, dismissing the image. Such a waste. Thoughts like that served no one and they still had work to do.

Donald’s face was once again a mask of granite as walked over to one of the large plastic drum style containers the restaurant hiding the back room used to transport leftover grease to the biodiesel processing plant. He picked up the drum and positioned it on the hand truck with an ease that came from years of practice.

An aroma of freshly baked bread tickled Frank’s nose and made his mouth water as he dried the last of his instruments. The kitchen’s really stepped up their game today, he thought as he packed his tools back into their leather case. The scent of rosemary was normally not so strong. His stomach rumbled. It would have to remain empty a while longer. In his line of work, it was never a good decision to delay sharing the results of an interview, no matter how enticing a meal was.

Frank winced as an ear-piercing screech came from the direction of the hand truck. “Stop, stop, stop,” he said coming to Donald’s side. He crouched down to examine the base. “Here’s the problem. The wheel’s stuck.” He poked at the wheel, looking for whatever was blocking its axle. The cool metal rim was tacky to the touch with strands of matted hair stuck to its surface. “Is this the same one you used on the last job?” He pushed on the rubber of the tire, but the wheel stubbornly refused to turn.

He frowned. If they didn’t clear whatever it was out now, there would be no way to get the container out of the room once it was filled. Then again, Donald had more muscle in a finger than most did in their entire arms. He might not even need the cart. The girl probably only weighs one hundred sixty or so, he thought as he glanced over his shoulder.

The chair was empty. Frank jumped up and spun on his heel. His gaze followed a trail of red spatter from the chair to the unguarded door.

Donald grunted.

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Frank whistled. Donald wasn’t the only one getting sloppy. “Maybe she’s not so stupid after all.”

His partner snorted.

“Well, don’t just stand there.” He gestured at the open door. “Go get her. She can’t have gone far.”


Read the conclusion here

We Survive, We Improvise – Conclusion #shortstory #fiction

The below is the conclusion to my short story, We Survive, We Improvise. If you missed the beginning, you can read it here.


wesurviveweimproviseThe engines’ roar seemed louder than usual in the plane’s cabin, likely because the cabin was filled with only about a quarter of the passengers it originally started with. “Let’s go home ladies,” Darla announced in a somber voice over the speaker system as the rest of us readied ourselves for lift off. The look in her eyes as she began making her final inspection down the aisle before giving the pilot the thumbs up sign told me our latest sergeant wouldn’t be looking for another challenge anytime soon.

Home. The word sat in my conscience. Could the place we were going to really be called home? For the first time, I allowed myself to think of the family I’d left behind. Not the fantasy family that had gotten me through so many terrible nights, but the real one. I forced myself to do the math. The daughter I still saw in braids and pigtails in my mind’s eye would be a woman now. She might even have a child of her own. I reached for the harness as an anchor only to recall my right arm was no longer attached to the rest of my body.

Stacy, the not-so-newbie, whose first battle proved to also be our last, pulled the belt across my body, securing it into place before strapping herself into Christie’s old seat. I bit my lip. Home. Would I ever really be able to call it that without these women by my side?

The scent of blood, dirt, and gasoline tickled my nose, causing my nostrils to quiver and eyes to water as I took a deep breath to settle my thoughts. I certainly wasn’t crying.

“Double or nothing?” Stacy asked Darla as my sister-in-arms made her way to our seats.

Darla glanced in my direction and the corner of her lip turned up. “You’re on.” Then she caught my eyes. “We were asked to give our all Ladies,” she shouted to the masses. “And that’s exactly what we served. Never forget who you are. We are the Mother F–ing Army.” Leaning in, she lowered her voice so only I could hear. “We survive. We improvise.”

I nodded as the plane began its journey to the place that might one day be called home again. We do indeed. 

Hooah.

This was a story that was partially inspired by a dream, but also the village that helped raise me – a wonderful group of women known as the Ladies that Do Bridge. While they might never have been sent to war, they’ve never shied from a battle.


Things I am grateful for today:

  1. With the exception of a slight cough, my cold is nearly gone
  2. I made it through my *gasp* eight-year old’s birthday party extravaganza, sanity intact
  3. I have friends and family close by as well as across oceans
  4. I have one complete manuscript simmering and a chapter written for the next one
  5. The knowledge that I am strong, I am determined, and I will make will make the best of whatever tomorrow throws my way. Because I survive even if it sometimes means I have to improvise.

We Survive, We Improvise – A bit of #shortstory #fiction

 

wesurviveweimproviseI waited as the plane’s door latch engaged. Any minute now, I thought. Sniff. Cha-ching. The engines whirled to life, drowning out all but the sounds generated by my seatmates – but I’d heard enough before their roar. “Newbie broke.” I turned to Darla with a grin, “just when I said she would.” We all broke. Darla and I only bet on when.

Darla snapped her harness together, readying herself for the flight. “You said preflight.”

“Yeah, and our wheels are still on the ground.” At least they were for a couple more seconds. Sure, there was a time when betting on when the newest recruit would break down into a puddle of tears would have sounded like one of the cruelest games imaginable, but I’ve long since witnessed far crueller. Besides, only a fraction of the green recruits managed to survive the first few days anyway, and those who did, well . . . they typically didn’t hold a grudge. When the only people between you and certain death are those you flew in with, you tend to become a little more forgiving.

Darla rolled her eyes. “Double or nothing.”

I smiled. I’d won the last three rounds in a row. Easy bet. It was also the only bet I would make against Darla. Back before, she’d once chaperoned an entire field trip of kindergarteners to the candy factory. Alone. The other chaperones having succumbed to a bout of food poisoning from the school’s volunteer thank you banquet the evening before. If that wasn’t medal worthy enough, she’d also somehow managed to do so while simultaneously coordinating the school’s fundraising carnival and spearheading the community’s clean water awareness campaign.

The rumor around the barracks suggested Darla may have had something to do with the banquet too and had intentionally given the other chaperones bad food just because she wanted an extra challenge – but I knew that story was garbage. Darla couldn’t ruin a dish if she’d tried.
In another life, I might have hated her, but in this one . . . In this one, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather have on my side.

“You’re on” It was money in the bank. That is, it would be if banks still existed. Still, the on-going bet helped pass the time and ensured the new faces didn’t blend together.

The plane’s engines roared as we began speeding down the blackened earth serving as the day’s temporary runway. Traditional infrastructure had become a target in the same way as the banks had. “We survive. We improvise.” I repeated our unit’s motto to myself as my ears adjusted to the ascent.

“I always think it is so cute you repeat that phrase each time. It always makes it sounds like we were given a choice.” If it was anyone poking fun at my ritual other than my other seatmate, Christie, I might have been offended. But I owed her, in more ways than one. Decades of mastering a world of pins and ‘grams had gifted her with a number of other life-saving talents. She could disguise a weapon as a tea cozy, disarm a bomb using pipe cleaners, and could trick an eye with any number of camouflages. If I’d only known the various sites would be so useful in my later years, I might have actually paid more attention to them when I had the chance.

The smile left my face, as it always did at the thought of my former life and my kids. Especially my kids. I wondered if they still remembered their mom’s face or if their ‘new’ mom was now filling in for me in that role as well. I knew it was a bitter thought. The women, whose primary civic responsibility was now populating the next generation while caring for those left behind, had about as much say in their assignment as those of us now past their prime, but it hurt to think about all the same. I kissed my fingers wishing I could kiss my children instead. If Christie noticed, she was kind enough not to say anything more.

As the plane leveled off and hit cruising altitude, our sergeant’s voice placed over the speakers. “Listen up ladies. I know the last several years have been hard on us all. When the enemy struck and destroyed all of our military units in one coordinated attack, we might have thrown up the white flag. But we survived. We improvised. When that same enemy released the bio-pandemic and decimated nearly eighty percent of the population, we could have surrendered. But we survived. We improvised. We may be past our childbearing years. We may be of no use in repopulating our once great nation, but we are far from useless. Some of you volunteered. Some required more . . . persuasion. But each and every one of you are now part of the fiercest fighting team the world has ever seen.”

The sergeant’s voice paused allowing her words to wash over the ranks like a wave. Even I was affected and I’d thought myself jaded to these rallies years ago.

She continued, “I am pleased to report our intelligence has located the enemy’s stronghold. Our assignment is clear. It’s now our turn. They may be able to improvise, but rest assured, they won’t survive. Because we are the mother f–ing army.”

Cheers sounded throughout the plane. Even the woman who had been crying at take-off now looked optimistic. Darla slapped my back as the sarge’s words soaked in. Could this really be it? I dared to hope and wonder. Christie grinned like a maniac. If not, at least I’d go down with the best friends a woman could ask for.

“Hooah”

To Be Continued…


October 31st not only marked the day my children manage to bring home their body weight in candy, it also was my self-imposed deadline for my second draft of my current work in progress. I am pleased to report that not only did I achieve this goal, I actually beat it by a couple of days. So now I’m leaving this project to sit and simmer, allowing all the lovely passive voice, clichés, and other typos proper time to rise to the surface before I attempt another round of rewrites and edits.

What this means is that I can finally allow myself to actually contemplate another novel project. Or I could, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve taken on new responsibilities at work, am attempting to plan Kiddo’s birthday party extravaganza, and have come down with an ugly head cold. So instead, I hope you might enjoy this sample of some of my shorter fiction.