Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Poetry: Also Known as Public Nudity

I wrote a lot of poetry in my teens and twenties but mostly stopped when my taste for simple rhyme and rhythm  garnered feedback from instructors that my poetry read like children's poetry. Isn't that sad? Perhaps it was meant more as an observation than a critique, but at the time, I felt like I was being belittled. I was too sensitive, and all these years later, I realize that a lot of the feedback I received in my college writing courses discouraged me from writing more, sooner. Oh well. I'm writing and publishing now, and, thankfully, seem to have outgrown being easily dissuaded. Still, preparing to publish this post, I feel more vulnerable than I usually do when sharing prose. I feel as though I'm preparing to saunter around downtown in the nude! 
This first poem is one that I wrote for Dale. I've been tinkering with it for over a year and recently shared it with Dale for the first time. His response set my heart aglow!
The second poem is something I wrote all in one sitting, last fall. It pretty much speaks for itself and was part of my attempt at coping with grief over the rape of someone I love very, very much. Putting my sense of outrage and helplessness into words didn't dull my grief, but it still felt helpful. 
I hope that these small pieces will touch something in you. <3

Love In Space(s)

It's not just that I love you from one end of the universe to the other,
my love wrapping round solar systems, over constellations, and through nebulae, until it returns to the point of origin, like a ribbon tied around a package. 
It is also that I love you in the micro-spaces. I love you in the taut moment before you decide to laugh at my ridiculous joke. I love you in the gap between your damp eyelashes as you step out of the shower, or a rainstorm, or a sad day. I love you when your heart beats, and I love you in the lull between your heartbeats. 

For The Niece I Couldn't Protect

We nod at statistics,
At conservative estimates.
We nod at our friends,
Half of whom have been raped.
We nod at our aunties,
Our mentors, our mothers.
We nod at the pain,
We've come to accept.

It's one thing to know
It has happened before.
It's one thing to cope
When it has happened to us.
It's another to think
Of our daughters and nieces,
And to know that such evil
Will visit our loves!

Today my heart's breaking
And bloodied and tearful.
Today my heart's breaking
For the young woman I love.
Today my heart's breaking
And raging and storming
That I couldn't protect
The young woman I love.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Coping With Anxiety

This selection from my phone notes was actually written for a loved one (and included in a letter) who has a family member who is coping with anxiety. In spite of the private nature of the original letter, this section might be useful for others, so I thought I'd include it in this odd little series of non-fiction posts. ;-)

Cognitive & behavioral strategies to decrease, & cope with, anxiety:

- Keep yourself in top energetic health through self-care including maintaining balanced sleep, nutrition, exercise, & time spent in work/play and social/solitary endeavors. 

- In a non-judgmental way, cultivate a curiosity driven approach to observing triggers (internal & external) for anxiety, and the thoughts, feelings, & actions that follow.

- Recognize that a few triggers can reasonably be avoided altogether but many cannot. 

- Begin to gently and patiently train yourself to identify & change your own thoughts (negative self-talk & cognitive distortions) and behaviors (shallow breathing, holding breath, muscle tension, ignoring pain/hunger/thirst/exhaustion signals, etc.) which are triggers themselves and/or automatic responses to triggers.

- Begin daily practice of a handful of calming/relaxation strategies (breathing techniques, timeouts, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, etc. ) in order to become highly skilled in utilizing these techniques and able to implement them at a moment's notice

- Deliberately utilize techniques from previous step when experiencing triggers and/or early warning signs of rising anxiety. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Favorite Characters

My All Time Favorite Fictional Characters:

1- The Luggage in Pratchet's Discworld novels

2- Tiffany Aching in Pratchet's Discworld novels (Two characters from one series?!)

3- Samwise in Tolkein's LOTR series 

4- Tom Bombadil in Tolkein's LOTR series (Look! I did it again!)

5-  Polgara In Eddings Belgariad Cycle

6- Carl in Alexandra Day's Good Dog Carl books

7- Master Harper Robinton in McCaffrey's Pern series 

8- Atlanta Burns in Wendig's Shotgun Gravy and in Bait Dog

9- Berko Shemets in The Yiddish Policeman's Union

10- Ishmael in Quinn's Ishmael and in My Ishmael

Who are your all time favorite characters?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Eighteen Lessons

I have a small treat for all of you who are signed up to receive my blog posts by email!
Since I don't have a way to get my laptop on the Internet right now, in lieu of flash fiction, I've decided to post a few of the musings that I've written (by thumb!) on my phone these past couple of years. Today, I'll start with this little list of tips that I wish I could send to my younger self. ;-)

Eighteen Lessons:

Life is easier as a middle-aged adult than as a young adult. Years of trial and error have taught us what does and doesn't work. Life doesn't come with a manual, but by this age, most of us could probably write one! Well, at least a Cliff's Notes version. Here are 18 things I know now that I wish I'd known as a young adult.

1- Always part your lips when you blow your nose. This'll save you a lot of earaches. 

2- The way your body looks has NOTHING to do with your lovability. Seriously, don't waste another moment regretting your weight, height, shape, or other details of appearance. 

3- Cut your own hair. You'll save a lot of money and get the haircut you want every time. 

4- Try all of the exciting things you want to try but haven't because you think you're not smart enough to learn how. You're more than smart enough.

5- If you must eat an entire head of roasted garlic, do it on a Friday. 

6- 50% of life's aches and pains can be eased by a heating pad and the other 50% by an ice pack. USE THEM!

7- Roast the turkey with the breast side down. You won't have to baste, and the white meat will be moist.

8- Stop making endless mental lists of your shortcomings, flaws, and mistakes. Make lists of perfect moments, good choices, personal strengths, and happy events. 

9- Stay flexible and expect change. 

10- Winter is easier to get through if you let yourself drink some caffeine each day from November through February. 

11- Although you feel like a solitary misfit, you are not alone. You will find kindred spirits in the most surprising places.

12- Knowing you CAN do something without help doesn't mean you SHOULD.

13- Stop feeling guilty for the time and money you spend on books. This will turn out to be one of your greatest strengths. 

14- You think you want smooth sailing but every dragon you face, and every gauntlet you run will teach you lessons that you'll be grateful for. 

15- Mixing metaphors will always make you feel like a gleeful rebel.  

16- When you can't remember someone's name, or the word that's on the tip of your tongue, ask yourself, "Does it start with an A? Does it start with a B?" And so on, through the alphabet. 

17- Volunteer. Find at least one place where you can volunteer and stick with it. In the short run, there may be sacrifices, but in the long run, few things will make you happier. 

18- Some of the best things in life are CHEAP! Most household cleaning and first aid can be accomplished with one or more of the following: white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, & Epsom salts. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wasilla dawn

Hi Folks!
It's Friday but I don't have any flash fiction for you, alas.
I'm currently in Wasilla helping a friend out, distracted, and lacking in Internet service for my computer. So, here's a quick update from my trusty smarty-pants phone!
I do have some short story ideas sloshing around in my brain, though, so stay tuned to see what stories show up in early March.
I'll post a quick note and update again next week. Meanwhile, have a delightful weekend and a terrific week!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentine's Day at Magic School

This story is for all of you who feel like you're made of "different stuff" than everyone else.

Valentine’s Day
Magic School

Love. Honesty. Integrity. Kindness. Insight. These are the virtuous pillars that each Magister must ever pursue, for in their presence, neither evil nor selfishness shall thrive.
            --Brimolde Bell, Magister and Founder of Bell’s Academy

The cloying, sweet smell of chocolate wove its way into Aggie’s sleeping mind, and before she even awoke, she knew someone had enchanted the fountain in the main square. Why anyone would want a fifty foot hot fudge fountain in the middle of campus, even on Valentine’s Day, was a mystery to Aggie, but it seemed to happen more years than not, at Bell’s Academy of Magic.
Aggie groaned and rolled over, burying her face in her golden-goose-down comforter. She didn’t have anything against chocolate, in sensible quantities. She even enjoyed the occasional bit of chocolate cake or hot cocoa. At least she had enjoyed those things before she came to the academy. The hot fudge fountain, however, had an aversive effect on Aggie, and she’d trudged through too many chocolate-permeated Valentine’s Days, now, to ever really enjoy chocolate again.
Breakfast was a panoply of strawberry roses, red velvet pancakes, raspberry smoothies, and heart-shaped omelet’s. Everyone, from the cooks and groundskeepers, all the way up to Principal Fritherton, devoted considerable time and creative energy to making each holiday celebration thematically cohesive, and memorable. Valentine’s Day, however, was always the most extravagant day of the school year.  After all, love was the first of the five pillars of virtue that Bell’s Academy attempted to instill in every student-magister to grace its halls.  
Aggie sat at the table closest to the cafeteria door, and sipped her strong, black tea. The commotion over breakfast was more intense than usual, as students exchanged cards with their friends and sweethearts, received teleported packages from their parents, and guffawed over the rumor that Magister Palmer would be proposing to Magister Li-Jing by the hot fudge fountain at high noon, wearing nothing but a diaper and a set of cupid-wings.
Aggie had been a student at Bell’s for eight years, but she had never received a Valentine. She was one of only three scholarship students who’d ever been admitted, and her family didn’t mark Valentine’s Day, much less have the money to celebrate it. With eleven children, and a small dairy farm, her parents had never paid heed to the holidays, and Aggie had never felt the sharp pang of yearning for something that she didn’t have. She hadn't felt that sharp pang, that is, until she was surrounded by the boisterous, wealthy youths of Bell’s Academy. By now, of course, that sense of yearning, that longing for connection, had become as well-worn and familiar as the faded winter jacket that had belonged to four of her older sisters before it was handed down to her. Aggie yearned for a friend, she yearned to feel a sense of belonging and, in her most secret heart of hearts, she yearned for a Valentine.
It wasn’t that Aggie was disliked by the other students at Bell’s. They were, in fact, uniformly kind to her, including her in study groups, inviting her to parties, and even to their homes over summer break. Aggie’s status as an outsider had less to do with cliques and schoolyard politics, than with the fact that she was made of different stuff than the other student-magisters. Aggie was quiet and reserved. She preferred reading to most any other activity, and she found herself utterly captivated by the study of magic. While she did her part to reciprocate the kindness of her classmates, Aggie had never managed to grow genuinely close to any of them, and at times, like today, she despaired of ever finding friendship and love. Tired of her thoughts, she swallowed one last hot gulp of tea, popped a single strawberry in her mouth, and headed off to Advanced Alchemy. Studying was the best way to distract herself from the smell of chocolate and the threadbare ache of loneliness.
Two lectures, and an hour at her hedge-witchery practicum later, Aggie had almost managed to put thoughts of Valentine’s Day out of her mind, and now she headed briskly across the main square with a peppermint and ginger sachet held against her nose to block out the overwhelming odor of chocolate. A growing crowd forestalled her progress, however, and Aggie backtracked. Students were streaming into the square from all directions and, when she didn’t immediately find an easy path through the milling bodies, Aggie took refuge atop a picnic table. From that vantage, she determined that she would either have to physically force her way through the crowd, or she would have to wait for it to dissipate. She sighed through her scented sachet and resigned herself to waiting. At least Magister Palmer, standing on a portable stage near the fountain, was fully clothed, his diaper and Cupid’s wings nowhere in evidence.
As noon approached, the crowd began to hush. Aggie could see that several of Magister Palmer’s favorite students were ushering Magister Li-Jing onto the stage. As the noon chimes rang out from the clock tower, Magister Palmer began to juggle. Within seconds, he was juggling five, then six, and then seven rubber balls. For almost a minute, the crowd watched, breathless, as Magister Palmer kept the balls in constant motion and whistled an old country tune. Then, with a piercing whistle, reminiscent of a rocket, he hurled one of the balls far into the air where, at its apex, it seemed to pause for one long moment, and then burst into a star shaped bundle of confetti. Faster, the magister whistled and faster he hurled the balls. Faster and faster they exploded into bright shapes of colorful paper that sparkled in the sunlight. Aggie gasped and exclaimed along with the rest of the crowd, and for a moment, she even forgot to hold her sachet against her nose. Then, as quickly as the display had begun, it was over and Magister Palmer was whispering something in Magister Li-Jing’s ear. The latter nodded, they exchanged locket necklaces, and the students clapped with riotous enthusiasm. Aggie tucked her sachet into her pocket and clapped along, before surreptitiously dashing away a tear from the corner of her eye. She would never want it done in front of an audience, but she couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to have someone love her enough to make such a fuss over her.
The remainder of the school day passed in a swirl of lectures, and then Aggie found herself back in the cafeteria for supper. The meal of steamed beets, pickled artichoke hearts, and lasagna was served by candlelight, with a three-piece orchestra playing in the background, but Aggie was too tired and hungry to properly appreciate the atmosphere. While Aggie yawned her way through a second helping, easy chatter, and carafes of sparkling cranberry juice flowed up and down the tables. Several boys showed off the stuffed dragons their girlfriends had given them, and Pablo, the most popular senior at Bell’s, received a singing hologram from a famous actress.
After dinner, most of the students and Magisters drifted into various parlors and libraries around campus, while Aggie climbed the steps to her tower bedroom and settled into her rocking chair to read. At half past nine, she set her books aside and stretched. It really hadn’t been such a bad day, though she could have done without the assault on her nose, she decided. Perhaps next Valentine’s Day, she’d take the initiative, and enchant the fountain so that it flowed with pink lemonade. Aggie smiled to herself, relishing the fantasy of beating the hot fudge pranksters to the fountain. She needed a supply list for the enchantment, she decided, and then startled at the sound of a knock at her bedroom door.
The guest was draped in a thick cloak and deep hood, but there was something about her that made Aggie trust her immediately.
“May I come in?”
Aggie opened the door wider for her guest. The woman moved with a decisive confidence that Aggie admired as she stepped into the room, swung the door closed, and pulled back her hood. Aggie took a step back in surprise, gathered herself, and then stepped forward again, to lay one hand on a familiar cheek.
“Are you really…?” Aggie was breathless.
“I am.” The woman smiled and Aggie saw crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes. Fascinated, she ran one finger over the crinkles.
“How…how old are you?”
“I’m forty-five,” the older woman said, and took Aggie's curious hand into both of hers.
“You’re twenty-eight years older than I am.” Aggie marveled as she searched the still-smiling face for more clues. “It sounds so…so old.” She blushed, then added, “But you look good. I mean, you don’t look old.” She took a deep breath. “You look happy.”
“Oh, Aggie, you have no idea. That’s why I’m here. Because I know you’re not happy. I know you’re lonely. But it’s going to get so much better, sweetie. You just need to hang in there.”
Aggie felt the sting of tears behind her eyes and the older woman must have sensed them too, because she gathered Aggie into a warm embrace.
“Does someone ever…will someone ever love me?” Aggie asked as she leaned into the strong shoulder of her future self.
Aggie-from-the-future squeezed her younger self, then set her back at arm’s length so that she could look into her eyes. “This is important. I need you to remember this, darling. Okay?”
Younger Aggie nodded.
“Many people love you, Aggie. You will be surprised by how many people love you. But most important, Aggie, I love you. I love you. Always remember that. Love yourself.”
Younger Aggie sniffed and tears streaked her cheeks. Aggie-from-the-future hugged her again.
“I wish I could stay longer, but I can’t. I have to go now, but you’ll remember, won’t you?”
Younger Aggie tried to smile through her tears, but gave a little hiccoughing sob instead. “I promise. I’ll remember. I love myself.”
“Good girl,” Aggie-from-the-future said, and then she pulled up her hood and disappeared from the room.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Those of you who’ve read my novels, know that I love writing about dogs and that I especially enjoy including them in stories about magic. This short-short story is dedicated to my sister, Holly, who happens to be the sweetest, most intelligent, beautiful, and lovable Jack Russell Terrier in the history of dogs. Holly has been very sick this week and in the hospital down in Arizona. Needless to say, even while writing, my mind and heart have been focused on my dog-sister.


Neil unzipped his coat, then bent and retrieved Adak’s ball from where the dog had dropped it at his feet. Adak, tongue lolling and tail wagging, kept his gaze on Neil’s face until the man wound up and lobbed the ball down the narrow path. The moment the ball left Neil’s hand, Adak flung himself forward, streaking to retrieve the well-worn tennis ball. Neil chuckled as the dog pounced on the fallen toy and turned to trot back towards him, high stepping like a Clydesdale. Man and dog continued this way for some twenty minutes, until Neil broke the rhythm to mop his brow with a threadbare handkerchief, and strip off his coat.
Although a delicate icing of frost covered the moss and small plants that lined the trail, deeper under the cover of the trees, all was green. Neil shook his head at the unseasonably warm temperature and thought, not for the first time, that this was the strangest winter in memory. February had just begun and spring seemed imminent. There was something about the air, the way it tickled his nostrils and almost smelled like spruce sap, that made Neil think more of March, or even early April, than the usually bitter-cold days of February. Neil’s thoughts, rather than the temperature, made him shiver.
After a time, Adak tired of playing fetch and began to weave in and out of the underbrush, sniffing and marking, as he went, never once setting down his ball. It pleased Neil that he never had to worry about the tennis ball. Adak never lost or misplaced the toy, nor did he ever leave home without it, and having known a few dogs with an equal passion for balls, Neil was grateful that he’d never had to go wading through streams or searching through thickets to retrieve his best friend’s most cherished possession. Not every dog owner was so lucky. Just last month, his pal Travis searched a muskeg for an hour, trying to find his dog’s favorite throwing disc. Finally, he’d given up and gone shopping for a new one, but Oscar had moped around with sad eyes for ten days before he deigned to play with the brand new toy.
Ahead and just off the trail, Neil caught sight of Adak poised atop a small rise, the ball still in his mouth, and his muzzle raised, as he scented the air. Adak’s usually wagging tail went stiff and straight behind him, and he lifted one forepaw in a classic point. Neil had just enough time to admire his dog’s pose and wish he carried a camera on walks, before Adak turned towards Neil and barked once, the sound deep and somewhat muffled through the ball. Then, Adak took off into the woods at a brisk trot.
What the…” Mark exclaimed before taking a deep breath and calling his dog in a firm voice. “Adak! Come!”
Adak wheeled around and headed back towards Neil, but he stopped, just a yard away. Neil crouched down and held out the dog’s leash, which he’d been carrying draped over his shoulder. “Come ‘ere, boy,” the man said in a warm tone, but Adak backed up as Neil reached towards him. “Come, Adak. Come on, let’s get this leash on.” Neil stood and clicked his tongue. Adak was well trained and Neil was proud of his recall. Not since early puppyhood, had the dog failed to come lean against him whenever he called, so this was startlingly out of character. “Come, Adak,” he repeated, and the dog backed away two more steps, then sneezed.
“What has gotten into you, huh, boy?” Neil took a step towards his dog and Adak took another step back. “Got a bit of spring fever, maybe? You hearing the call of the wild?” Neil took another step towards Adak who turned and trotted deeper into the trees, before sitting down and watching Neil.
With as much calm as he could muster, Neil shrugged back into his coat and walked towards his dog, wishing he’d stuffed his pockets with dog treats. “Something got you spooked, big boy? You want to leash up and go home? C’mere, Adak. Let’s go home.” The dog stood up, whined softly, and stretched into a deep play-soliciting bow before standing up and, again, trotting further into the woods.
Neil raked a hand through his hair and squinted after his dog. What on Earth was Adak up to? The sneeze, and now the play bow, seemed to indicate that he wasn’t frightened, but this wasn’t a behavior Neil had ever seen before, either, so it wasn’t an established game. Neil grunted and ran his hand through his hair again, then walked towards Adak. It almost seemed as though the dog wanted him to follow. No sooner had Neil considered this possibility, than Adak trotted further ahead, looking back over his shoulder every few feet as though to make sure the man followed.
The further Adak led Neil into the woods, the more convinced Neil became that the dog was leading him towards something important. Whenever Neil lagged too far behind, the dog stopped and waited with seeming patience. Neil worried that Adak might be leading him to a lost or injured hiker and he mentally rehearsed the meager first aid skills he knew. Without supplies, or any of the other usual preparation for backcountry hiking, Neil also realized that he might be putting his own life at risk. Several times, as he contemplated the ever-gloomier woods, he considered turning back, with or without his dog, but each time he hesitated, Adak circled back to him, whining and looking soulfully into his eyes. The man continued to second-guess his own actions, but, as if tugged along by some invisible current, he followed his companion, even as dusk caressed the treetops.
As full darkness approached, Neil muttered under his breath about his own foolishness and even swore when he remembered that he’d left his keys, and his tiny keychain flashlight, in his truck. He surprised himself, though, as his eyes adjusted to the deep murk, and his step remained steady and swift. Neil stepped nimbly over tangled roots, around granite boulders, glacial erratics that had been sprinkled across the region by the retreating glaciers of the last ice age, and through densely packed thickets of underbrush.
At last, Adak slowed, and then halted. Panting lightly around the ball that he still held firmly in his jaws, the dog looked out across a small clearing, and sat down. Equally out of breath, Neil finally came alongside his dog and within arm’s reach, but Adak’s leash, slung around his neck, was totally forgotten.
The clearing, in sharp contrast to the surrounding forest, was crusted with a thick layer of hoar frost. Above, clouds scudded across the sky and a crescent moon appeared. Beams of moonlight, refracted by a million crystalline prisms of frost, set the cold ground to sparkling, as though it had been sprinkled with fairy dust. In the middle of the clearing stood the oldest woman Neil had ever seen. She was dressed all in snowy white and her long silver hair hung, tangled, to her shoulders. Her skin was wrinkled and folded, but her eyes were a piercing glacial blue. The woman leaned on a knobby staff half again as tall as she was, and on her head rested a crown of dagger-sharp icicles that rose even taller than her staff. Across the distance, Neil felt the old woman’s eyes meet his own, and he went still and cold. Then, she looked away, and Neil drew in a shaking breath.
There were others, Neil realized, as he glanced around. Many others. Dozens of animals gathered in a ring around the wintry clearing, though they made no noise. Most of the animals were vague figures in the dark, but Neil could see the ones closest to him and Adak. There were several small animals: shrews, marmots, hares, two porcupines, and an owl. Neil also saw the telltale gleam of yellow eyes and several sets of silhouetted canine ears that told him wolves were among the group.
Neil inched closer to Adak, who watched the old woman in white as though he cared not a whit about the other observers. Neil laid one hand against the back of Adak’s neck. From the corner of his eye he saw Adak’s tail wag, once, then go still.
The old woman leaned on her staff and hobbled to the edge of the clearing opposite Neil and Adak. As he watched, the shadowy figures began to resolve themselves. Some were, like the observers nearest him, animals, but others seemed human, or almost so. A large male figure, heavily muscled and bearing an enormous rack of antlers, stepped forward and held something out to the old woman. She accepted it, tucked it into her white robe, then leaned forward while the male bent his antlered head low so that she could whisper in his ear.
Next, a lean, figure stepped forward with an odd, hopping gait. It appeared to speak to the old woman, moving its beak as it held out a small parcel. Like before, the woman slipped the parcel into her robe where, Neil decided, she must have a pocket, and again she leaned forward to whisper something.
One by one, they came forward, each more peculiar looking than the last. One by one, they offered a gift, and received a whispered message. Neil watched in slack-mouthed awe, half wondering if he’d stumbled upon some bizarre masquerade, and half knowing that he was witnessing a wild and ancient magic, far more wondrous than any costume party.
As the old woman drew nearer to him, Neal began to notice that the creatures around him no longer looked like the ordinary wild animals he had glimpsed upon his arrival. Now, they each seemed to be an eerie hybrid of human and animal. One woman, with the long neck and feathered head of a goose nodded at him, which startled Neil into looking down. Near his feet sat a wild hare with ruby jewels dangling from its ears, and wearing an embossed Chinese print silk jacket. A very small woman with equally tiny, feathered wings sat in a saddle on the hare’s back. A few inches away, almost touching Adak’s tail, stood a creature that appeared to be fashioned entirely out of curling fern fronds. Breathless, Neil looked up and met the yellow eyes and flashing white grin of a dark-haired man who had bent to pat Adak’s head. The man wagged his tail in a graceful swish-swish-swish, but Neil found himself unable to return his friendly smile.
As the old woman drew closer, Neil’s sense of awe grew until he watched the repetitive ritual of the offered gift and answering whisper in a kind of stunned blankness. Until the old woman reached Adak, Neil hadn’t considered that he would be expected to participate in the ritual, but seeing that she seemed to even expect a gift from his dog, Neil’s brain sputtered into frantic motion, scrabbling about in search of an appropriate offering. Adak, meanwhile, rose and stepped toward the old woman as though he knew exactly what to do. He looked up into her face for a long moment, then bent his head and dropped his tennis ball at her feet. The woman bent stiffly, picked up the ball, which Neil knew must be saturated and squishy with dog slobber by this point, tucked it into her white robe, and whispered into Adak’s ear. A moment later, Neil felt friendly but firm hands pushing him forward.
Up close, the old woman looked more than old. She looked ancient. And yet, there was something ageless and lively in her light blue eyes. Neal wobbled on his feet, the woman reached out one gnarled hand to steady him, and he felt like he’d been struck by lightning while being blasted with a frozen wind. He was both hot, and cold. He was both comforted, and terrified. In an instant, he pulled Adak’s leash from where he’d draped it around his neck and thrust it toward the old woman. He wanted to be done with this. He wanted to step away from her terrible elemental power. Was she laughing at him? At his gift? Her eyes danced as she leaned towards Neil, and he felt her icy breath against his ear.
“Do not fear change, for the wheel turns forever. Each new thing will wither away and become old, only to be reborn in a new guise.” The old woman squeezed Neil’s hand, as though in reassurance and continued, “Change is inevitable, but I will be here long after humans have faded away into dust. Not even humans can banish the cycle of life, and I will outlast even this lovely planet, which itself will outlast humans by countless millennia. Do not fear.” The old woman gave Neil’s hand one more squeeze then moved on while Neil stumbled back to his place.
When Neil next looked up, he saw that the old woman continued to make her way around the circle, but in the center of the clearing, the frost was melting. A girl, no more than thirteen, stood barefoot on the wet moss. Like the old woman, the girl wore a white gown, but unlike the crone, the girl’s crown was a ring of flaming candles, with leafy vines woven through them. As Neil watched, the girl opened her mouth and began to sing, and her melody was the sound of songbirds and of growing things.
Spring would arrive soon, Neil realized, as he buried his fingers in the fur of Adak’s thick coat. Spring would arrive, and it would always arrive. Even after the coldest and most desolate winter, new life would always return. The cycle was endless, built into the universe, and as eternal.