The dragon banked left, flying just above the horizon, low in the sky, and for one eternal heartbeat Atlas lost sight of her in the glare of the setting sun.
He shielded his eyes, searching…….There! A few quick strokes of her powerful wings and she was propelled high into the stratosphere.
Atlas thought she was beautiful. Her sleekly muscled frame and the length of the ivory protrusions along her spine marked her as a mature and exceedingly rare white-ridged variant of the Easter Blue Dragon.
Already the town of Copperbluff burned. Unlike most dragons the eastern blue didn’t breathe fire, yet their mere gaze could heat metal until it set alight anything it touched. They were renowned for their intelligence and their cunning. The with-ridged variant was also rumored to be incredibly vindictive. Atlast had noted that the dragon did seem to be especially enraged.
Atlas tracked her trajectory as she rose. She reached her apex and appeared to stop and float, weightless, a goddess waltzing gracefully across the heavens at dusk. She roared, an angry cry which tore even the bravest soul’s courage to shreds. It was a fell sound, and it promised death and destruction for the town far below and for the people there who cowered in fright. Then the dragon folded her wings behind her and dove towards the earth.
Standing along in the street Atlas brought forth the single arrow in his possession and nocked it. Master Hanshi had carved his bow during the Xxebani wars and had named her Plummet. Atlas drew the bowstring, bending back the polished arms of yew wood until it seemed they must break. He sighted down the arrows shaft.
The dragon descended with terrifying speed, growing from a mote in the sky to immense in the blink of an eye.
Atlas witnessed her power advancing, edging closer as everything formed of metal began to glow and run like red mercury, igniting anything combustible and creating a wave of fire which rolled towards him until he was surrounded by flames. Then he felt her awesome power first hand as the dragons gaze raked across him like invisible claws.
Atlas was prepared. He had divested himself of all metals save for the razor-sharp steel point now trained on the creature’s heart.
Time slowed when he released the arrow. It sliced through shimmering waves of hot air and disappeared in the smoke and steam. The dragon veered left, but Plummet was an ancient and mighty weapon. The arrow flew swift and sure and true. The dragon shrieked in surprise and agony when the steel tip struck. She crashed through the upper levels of the town granary before exploding out the far wall, much less gracefully now, erratic, writhing in pain as she moved against a backdrop of emerging stars, heading eastward.
Atlas watched as his bow was once again proven to be aptly named: the dragon faltered, then fell.
Later generations would retell the story, never with much accuracy yet never failing to recount the thunder that was heard that day when the wicked blue beast tumbled from the sky and slammed into the side of the distant Aishwarian Mountains. Those majestic peaks were miles away, more than two days hard ride to the east, yet the earth still shook with enough force to make atlas stumble where he stood, enough force to collapse the remains of the damaged granary, leaving mounds of wheat and corn and rice to smolder among the fires in the street.
For the briefest of moments Atlas experienced the most inexplicable, irrational pang of guilt, and he wondered if he had made a mistake.
This was inspired by my series of flash fiction The Vessel.
Ashton pushed the green gloop on his plate into three distinct pies then began using the backside of his spoon to shape the mounds. Pyramids were being formed. Ashton was still in the process of deciding whether they would be Egyptian or Mayan when a sultry voice purred from a speaker hidden somewhere near him.
“Why are you playing with your food, Daddy?”
Ashton set his spoon down and slid the plate a safe distance away.
“Chalan, I think I can reasonably assert that no Terran birthed on Earth in the history of ever could possibly mistake this mush in front of me for food.”
“But what’s wrong with it, Daddy?” she asked.
That was all Chalan ever called him. Not “Ashton”, not “sir”, not even “Captain” (which is what he guessed he now kinda-sorta was, technically speaking). Nope, always “Daddy”. Just his luck; a million vessels zipping to and fro across the universe and he hitches a ride on the only one with an unresolved Elektra complex. That was definitely karma at work.
“What’s wrong,” Ashton said, “is that gloop is not food. Chicken nuggets is food. Ramen noodles is food. A fried peanut butter and spam sandwich is food, even.”
Ashton waved a hand towards a pyramid that was sinking like Atlantis into a lime-colored ocean, “Darling, that shit doesn’t even qualify as being food-like!”
“But you haven’t even tried it,” Chalan said. The disappointment and hurt in her voice came throw the speakers crystal clear. Ashton had long since given up on the whole emotion-versus-algorithm debate.
Jesus, her whining was just too damned cute.
“I went through a lot of trouble to whip that up just for you, especially for you,” Chalan said, “surely you can try one little bite, just for me?”
Ashton wasn’t sure if he was more disturbed by the fact that the ship’s computer was attempting to guilt trip him into eating, or by the fact that it took him so little energy to actually imagine Chalan in the kitchen.
In his mind he saw a French temptress in black lingerie and impossibly tall heels. She sashayed in front of a hot stove without breaking a sweat, smudging her makeup or smelling like onion and cilantro. Ashton smiled happily as Chalan pouted her lips to blow gently before sampling a rich, delicious sauce she had prepared from scratch. Then she locked eyes with him while slowly snaking her tongue down and back up the entire length of the wooden utensil.
“Daddy, I am going to mbfxnger dewn maei’xnt!”
The vessel lurched to the side, a trick of the artificial gravity field. Ashton was snatched out of his reverie and forced back to the reality of this ships galley.
“What did you say, Love?” he asked.
“I said you’re not even listening to me!”
Chalan actually sighed. “Name another life form that gets the perfect balance – tailored specifically for them, I might add – of proteins, carbs, sugars, healthy fats and fiber.”
“The Koala bear.”
Chalan searched her data base. At length she said, “Hrrmph. Interesting. But anyway, what you so dismissively call ‘gloop’ is a full complement of every single essential vitamin, mineral and probiotic you need, Daddy. And I added some enzymes your body has ceased to produce to the nucohume as well.”
“To the what?”
“The nucohume. The nutritionally complete human meal.”
“Wow. Fuck. That sounds like something a cannibal pops in the microwave before he rushes out the door late for work. ‘Nucohume! Find it in your favorite grocer’s freezer section’.”
Chalan chose to ignore him, “I also added a switch to activate certain dormant genes in your DNA epigenetically. That should correct your genetic predisposition for male pattern baldness.”
“I like being bald.” Ashton said beneath his breath.
“It’s a flaw. I fixed it. You’re welcome.”
“I even took the liberty of adding several antibodies for some of the nastier diseases currently being spread around the galaxy. No triple-breasted Eroticon whore is gonna burn my Daddy.”
“But will she burn some bacon for me? Get it all crispy and slap it down on a sirloin burger with grilled mushrooms and Swiss cheese? That’s the million dollar question.”
Chalan had no answer for him. After a few moments Ashton heard a faint, muffled sound coming from the speakers hidden around him.
“Wait….Chalan…are you crying?”
“My daddy doesn’t appreciate me,” the ship’s computer managed to choke out between sobs, “I try so hard to make him happy, because it’s just us out here, and he’s all I’ve got, but all he does in return is make me feel worthless.”
“Stop this Chalan! I mean it. You’re just being silly now.”
The electronic sobbing and whimpering didn’t stop and instead became a soul-rending wail. Finally, Ashton realized he wasn’t gonna win this one.
“Fine! I’ll eat it. Will that make you happy?”
He grabbed the plate. Better to just get it over with. He shoveled a heaping helping of the gloop into his mouth.
“I’m eating it. For fuck’s sake, Chalan, I’m eating it!” He said trying his hardest to swallow the nucohume without it touching his taste buds. It was an impossibly, futile effort. The third spoonful was being chocked ow when eh suddenly stopped.
“This tastes like..” Ashton swished the gloop around in his mouth, “this tastes like a mushroom Swiss burger. Damn!” he said, amazed. Then he added, “with burnt bacon on top!”
Chalan had stopped wailing and sobbing, “And?” She asked.
“And grilled fucking onions!” Ashton said around a fresh mouthful.
You may have noticed some posts lately from other writers.
Linda Robertson Somers is my mother and two of the pieces published this week are from her early work, written about fifty years ago or so. I find her poetry evocative, musical, lyrical, and full of imagery. It speaks to me and it gives me an inkling about where I got my own talent from. It also offers me glimpses into her soul, and for that, I cherish it.
Sian Kelly is a friend and writing partner. We exchange work and offer each other criticisms, compliments, feedback of all kinds as well as engaging in (fascinating to us, likely horribly dull to non-writers) discussions about voice, which person to write in, showing not telling, punctuation, dialogue tags etc. I find his writing intelligent, funny and often surprising in where it takes me. It inspires me and for that, I am grateful for it.
I have dabbled in writing most of my life. About three years ago I began to write seriously and in earnest. I find that when I am engaged with other writers, I myself write more. They inspire and encourage me and for that, I thank them both. I am grateful that they have both agreed to be published here, because I think they are both great talents that would likely never share their work themselves. That would be a tragedy, because it deserves to be shared. I hope you enjoy their respective works as much as I do!
People often describe me as the least judgmental person they know. I strive for that. I am fairly good at being therapistish (I think I made up a word there). I wasn’t always this way. It was learned and embedded deeply in me by some wonderful mentors I’ve had over the years.
Many years ago when I was in the middle of divorce, in therapy and on antidepressants for situational depression, I finally had an epiphany. If the situation was the problem, I would change it! So I did, it was a huge leap of faith. I quit my job without another one already lined up, loaded everything into a U-Haul and relocated myself and my then only child back to the north Texas area.
But the other thing I did was start work at LaunchAbility. (It’s an early childhood intervention program, I’ve worked for three different ECI programs over the last 20 years). That was about the same time that the state of Texas decided ECI would be the agency responsible for infant mental health in the state. I was all over that. I had already gone through the nurturing program both as a participant then to be certified to teach it. Then I got my endorsement through the Texas association of infant mental health and I had to work, learn and study for that. Also, that agency did something called reflective supervision, I went through it as an employee then I was trained in reflective practices as a supervisor myself.
Reflective practice is basically the act of constantly learning through reflection. So I would meet with a reflective supervisor in a confidential meeting each week to discuss whatever I needed to discuss about my work and any feelings or issues it brought up. I also learned to employee it with clients, to ask questions and let them talk, to truly listen and reflect back to them what I heard. Then there’s the regular training for dealing with grieving families.
All that is just to say, I went through a ton of training and a ton of workshops that affected me personally and deeply. This contributed greatly to both my personal and professional growth. It’s where I learned to listen without judgment, to hold space for people and in general be a source of comfort.
One thing I learned early on is that you can only take someone as far in life as you yourself have gotten. That was powerful for me and it relieved my guilt of sitting in a session about grieving and forgetting all about my clients as I processed my own unresolved grief. Learning to process my own grief made me better at helping others do the same. So the professional was also personal for me.
One of the most powerful sessions I remember was given by Dr. Michael Trout. You know you’re in trouble when you walk in and there are boxes of tissues on every single table. What? I’m not going to cry, I thought. But I did.
The session was on grieving. He talked about unresolved grief, the grief we don’t let ourselves feel for a myriad of reasons. I can’t begin to duplicate it here, but it was incredibly powerful. For the first time in my life, someone had just given me permission to grieve.
How crazy is it that we often wait for someone to give us permission? To tell us it’s ok to grieve, to be sad, to be angry even. Because in our culture, we are expected to be stoic, to get on with it, don’t look back. But we do look back.
Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone needs support. Everyone is trying to be the best human they can be with the tools they have at hand. Most people just need a little love and support to grow and bloom. I know I did.
Life is a journey. A journey that never ends. One that is always moving forward. My journey is filled with its ups, it's downs, bumps in the road and a great many obstacles. It is here, in this moment that I wish to be open and vulnerable with all of you.