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Brianna's House of Horrors

Hello everyone. I wrote you a Halloween story! It's approximately 1900 words.

Brianna's House of Horrors

“It’s just gonna be the usual stuff,” said Josh, who’d caught a glimpse through the partially open door of what Brianna had in store for everyone in her House of Horrors. “Peeled grapes for eyes, spaghetti for intestines--” He broke off when Brianna appeared.

You have to give Brianna credit. It isn’t easy to move to a new town when you’re in high school, and it takes definite guts to issue an open invitation to your English class to stop by your house for the scare of the century, especially when your house is just a crummy old rental, shoved into the hill on the side of the state highway just past the gas station at the town line. But Brianna’s got guts.

“Welcome!” Brianna said, smiling broadly. “You parked at the gas station and walked the rest of the way, right? Good!” She opened the door wide and made a low bow. “Come on in, if you dare.”

“Don’t you want us to put on blindfolds or something?” Josh asked.

“I don’t know what lame Houses of Horrors you’ve ever been to,” she replied, giving him a top-to-bottom lookover, “but for my House of Horrors, you need your eyes wide open. Everybody can stand over there,” she continued, pointing to the left wall. “But be careful not to step on Smooth. He’s my mom’s python. We’re letting him roam free in hopes he’ll keep the mice down.” Vienna gave a muffled squeal—she’d learned somewhere that girls are supposed to be scared of both snakes and mice—but she and all the rest (Niels, Katie, Devika, Ryan, and of course Josh) went in.

Read more...Collapse )

The next day in school, you heard different stories depending on who you talked to. Katie and Niels said Brianna led them back to the same house, but that in the meantime Zach had cleaned it up, put on music, and set out snacks. Devika, Vienna, and Ryan said it was a totally different house, but that Zach had inexplicably turned up. Devika swore she heard Brianna tell Zach, “I will release you after midnight,” whereas Vienna was sure Brianna had said, “What are you doing here?” You couldn’t get much out of Josh. He kept falling asleep during classes, and when his teachers asked him about it, he’d only say that he’d pulled an all-nighter and was paying the price now.

A fall of golden leaves

Just for you to enjoy looking at--I'll be back with interactive content in a day or two.


So I've finally started to watch this show. Some stuff I nod at vigorously--I've seen things like it during my volunteering, or my students have told me stories that support it. Other stuff, not so sure.

But the thing that really struck me, the thing the show totally misses, is CHILDREN. I've worked with about a hundred people closely over the past four years, and I'd estimate that 90 to 95 percent of them had kids. It was *very* rare for someone not to have kids. And while some of my students have just one or two kids, many of them have four or more. Thinking about kids, worrying about how they're doing, the threat of termination of parental rights, guilt over how they've been as parents--these things are just huge for my students. Getting to talk with their kids is huge. And that's totally absent from season one of Orange Is the New Black. Preppy thirty-something Piper Chapman, the main character, doesn't have kids. Her former lover, the urbane drug trafficker, doesn't have kids. But neither do 99 percent of the secondary characters. The lipstick-wearing, wedding-planning woman (Internet tells me the character's name is Lorna) doesn't have kids. Streetkid Tricia, the heroin addict, doesn't have kids. Wild-haired Nicky doesn't have kids. Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" doesn't have kids. Taystee doesn't have kids. In a very unfair case of getting stereotyping both coming and going, Tiffany-the-meth-head Born-Again type not only doesn't have kids, she's had lots of abortions. Even the older women, like Captain Kate Janeway Red, the kitchen worker, or Yoga Jones, or Miss Claudette, are childless.

I think it's a big mistake. What incarceration does to families and children is huge, both on the inside and on the out. But that plotting decision seems in line with American entertainment preferences generally. For some reason the viewing public isn't interested in thinking about children unless that's the main focus of the story. So you can have child-focused shows ... or anything else.

Multiplication of beings

When my kids were little and required a watchful eye, I would sometimes have dreams that duplicates of them would appear. So for instance, I'd dream I'd just helped the ninja girl into the car, but here is another ninja girl. It was bewildering. It wasn't a case of one being a fraud, or of my somehow overlooking that they were twins; it was just pure duplication. It was like when you add a stitch accidentally in knitting. There was just one of her, but now there are two of her. Occasionally I'd have dreams with further multiplication. It seemed wrong, but there was nothing to be done about it. Certainly I couldn't just ignore or neglect the duplicates--it wasn't there fault there was this hiccup in reality.

Not the ninja girl. Source

You know how, in film, a series of still shots are run in succession, and so you see motion? If a person is walking across the street, each still shows them a little further along--but it's the same person, just one person, and when we watch the film, that's what we see: one person walking across the street.

If I were to imagine an explanation for my dream experience, it would be that versions of the ninja girl from very near, but distinct, points in time somehow got detached from their place in time, as if a person in a film still could climb off the film and wander into another still, somehow while the film is running (and then from then on I guess the film compensates by having the duplicate in all the subsequent stills? I'm getting tangled up in an analogy that's imperfect.)

In the dreams, the extras usually disappeared eventually, which was a relief. I don't know how to work that into the film analogy--it's more like double vision that clears if you blink hard.

I thought of it just now because I was snuggling with our cat, and I thought I heard him calling from outside the door. I'm always alert for when reality might start to behave like a dream.

ETA: Maybe I'll write a story with this in it....

An Angel for Mariqua, by Zetta Elliott

At the jail where I volunteer, there’s a small bookshelf next to the front desk that says “free books/libros gratis.” It has a varying mix of picture books through middle-grade books, and I try to drop off books there periodically.

So I was really excited to learn about An Angel for Mariqua, a middle-grade book by Zetta Elliott about a girl whose mother is in jail. Mariqua lives with her grandmother now, and she’s angry at everyone and everything, and also lonely. Then two good things happen. An old man selling carved Christmas figurines at a roadside stall gives her a beautiful wooden angel, and Valina, a high school student, takes an interest in Mariqua. Two sorts of angels.

Here’s the scene with the old man:

Even though it had been raining for most of the afternoon, the man wore no raincoat. Instead he wore a woolen poncho that had tassels along the edge. Bands of blue, red, yellow, and green ran across the man’s shoulders and met in a V near his waist. Even though it was cold and rainy outside, the stranger looked warm and dry. Mariqua thought he looked like he was wrapped up in a rainbow . . .

Suddenly one of the man’s hands appeared from underneath his rainbow shawl. His fingers were the color of caramel. He picked up one of the small wooden angels and handed it to Mariqua.

“For you.”

Mariqua held the angel in her hands. A long blue dress with golden stars had been painted on the angel’s wooden body. Two wings curled away from her narrow waist like petals on a flower. They, too, had been painted gold. The angel had thick black hair and deep brown skin. She had a tiny pink smile on her face.

Mariqua doesn’t have the money for it, but the old man insists she take it.

Mariqua’s first encounter with Valina involves Valina yanking her back onto the curb when she attempts to dash across the street. Valina’s quick move saves her from being hit by a bus—and then Valina calls her on her bullshit, as the saying goes, when Mariqua is rude in response:

“I just saved your life and you can’t even say ‘thank you’? Well, forget you, then. Your scrawny little behind can get hit by a bus, for all I care. And here--”

She thrust the wooden angel into Mariqua’s chest. “Take your stupid hunk of wood. Bad as you are, you need a guardian angel looking out for you.”

But then the next day at Sunday School, Valina encourages the teacher to let Mariqua be the angel in the nativity play, even promising to help Mariqua learn her lines.

The story follows their growing friendship, deepening as Mariqua gradually realizes the situation of Valina’s mother. By the end, Mariqua is able to offer Valina love and support when Valina needs it most. It’s a beautiful scene. And Mariqua sees her own mother in a new light, too.

I encourage anyone who’s interested in the issues of parents in prison, families disrupted by incarceration or in books by authors of color or indie books to give it a try. It’s a lovely book. I can’t wait to leave it at the jail, where hopefully someone like Mariqua can pick it up. But I may have to get myself another copy to keep. It’s a good book.

An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott.

writing in ripples and grass

wakanomori ran a marathon this past weekend, in Portland, Maine (and did very well!) While he was running, I was admiring the salt marshes in the bay. When I started walking, the tide was out, and I was feasting my eyes on all the colors, and on the wave-tufts of the semi-flattened grasses:

grass crests and tufts

autumn salt marsh

I liked looking at all the treasures in the tideline:


feathers and a crabCollapse )

But what was most mesmerizing and enchanting was when the tide started coming in--insistent ripples pushing in on the grass:

egret and incoming tide

And the grass and ripples were like calligraphy--words written on water:

calligraphy of grass and ripples

An afternoon choose-your-own-adventure

You have to get a document signed at an activist organization in the center of Springfield. When you get to the destination, you see that there's no on-street parking. The organization is located next to a condemned building. Behind the condemned building there appears to be some parking, but it looks full. There's a Burger King across the street--one could park there. Further ahead, there seems to be a parking lot.

Do you (a) attempt to park behind the condemned building, (b) park at the Burger King, or (c) drive toward the parking lot?

If you choose (a), you discover it's full. You have to make a 36-point turn in a small space and exit, whereupon your choices are (b) and (c).

If you choose (b), do you (d) buy something at the BK (y'know, to make it legit that you're parking there) or (e) go straight to the activist organization? If (d), congrats, you get something yummy to eat. Now you're at (e). Hold that thought.

Or do you--as I did--choose (c)? If so, you discover that it's a permit-only parking lot for the nearby community college. However, there are **lots** of open spaces. Do you (f) park there anyway, or (g) go driving further afield?

If you choose (g), you get pretty far down the street and see that there's no place available AT ALL EVER. Oh, wait, but here's a charismatic church's parking lot. You could park here; it's not Sunday. If you choose to (h) park here, you have a long walk back to the activist organization (e).

I turned back around, however, and decided to park illegally in the community college parking lot (f). If you choose this, you observe that there's a parking lot monitor on duty. Do you (i) revert to (g) or (b)? Or do you (j) slink out of the car thinking, "Whatever, man, just ticket me." Or do you (k) decide to approach him and ask if he knows a place you could park legally? (Why would you do this? just do (b) and get the Burger King food! But (k) was my decision.)

"Well, you're obviously a student here," the guard says. Confronted with this misapprehension, do you (l) correct him or (m) let the misconception stand? If you choose (l), I can't imagine what he does. Does he blow up at you? Tell you to park at the (b) Burger King? Or maybe say, "Allll Right, JUST THIS ONCE you can park here"? Who knows. As you can tell, I went with (m). He told me where I could go to get a parking permit.

"But what about right now?" I said. "What should I do right now? With my car?"

"You can leave it here while you get the permit. But by next week they're going to be ticketing."

So that brings me to (e). I hadn't had a very good impression of this activist organization up to now, but when I got in the door, I was greeted by a whole bunch of really engaged, friendly seeming people, mainly people of color, not crusading white folks, which is appropriate for the location, and there were all sorts of useful-seeming handouts in pockets on the walls, and I got a very energetic, positive feeling from it. Which goes to show you how different an in-person impression can be.

On my way back, I didn't see the parking lot attendant, so there was no need to dig myself deeper into deception. I did, however, overhear this conversation:

Woman, rolling down car window, and directing her remarks to a guy who was helping repair the parking lot fence: "Don't be trying to pretend you don't know me, and then come round trying to kidnap my baby!" The guy said something I couldn't hear, and then voices rose, and I was thinking, "Yiiiiikes," but then the woman in the car was laughing, and the guy was smiling, and then the car drove off so . . . all's well that ends well?

Sci Fi series mini reviews, part two

This is a continuation of last entry. I wrote it all as one entry, but it was a lot of text, so I split it up. These last two shows are new.

Stranger Things (2016)

A US show. How can I put this. I enjoyed the show, but it incited great rage in me as well. It is so Steven Spielberg that I really was trying to make “Duffer brothers” (actual creators) be an anagram of “Steven Spielberg.” a rant ensues, with spoilersCollapse )

So yeah, given that rant, it would be understandable if you thought I hated the show. The story was exciting, though, and a lot of the details were great. If I pretend that men and boys are the only real humans, it's a cracking yarn.

Cleverman (2016)

An Australian show. I’d learned about it from heliopausa, and littlemoremasks recommended it, so we watched it. The premise is that a whole other humanoid species (referred to most neutrally as “the hairy people” but also as “hairies” or “subhumans”) has existed alongside Homo sapiens I guess in the outback of Australia (because an Aboriginal character mentions having lived in tacit mutual accepance since forever) but only revealed themselves in the past six months--whereupon they’ve been rounded up and forced to live in a containment zone and subjected to terrible abuses, with worse just around the corner.

First two episodes were unpleasantly torturific, and the young man who becomes the new cleverman (a master of powers in this world and the dreaming) starts out as a pretty major jerk, but as it was only six episodes long, we stuck with it. The mythic elements were excellent, and the young man comes round in the end, but perhaps because the premise made me uncomfortable, I kept on focusing on problems with it. From a meta perspective, by making the story about hairies, the creators are able to address issues like Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples, its offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, etc. without talking about them directly--but that’s a very tricky tactic to use. Plus, while it’s great to have Aboriginal traditions and culture valorized, within the story, the characters who carry those traditions end up acting as the protectors and champions of the hairies: we’ve traded in white saviors for Aboriginal saviors. We get to hear dialogue in an Aboriginal language (which is very cool), but we get no sense at all of hairy language, culture, history, or anything. What’s been going on with them for all these millennia? This season ends with a cliffhanger. Despite qualms, I’m curious to see what happens next, and I’ll watch another season if they make one.

Sci-Fi series mini reviews, part one

We got Apple TV, so suddenly we have access to way more shows. I’ve written up reviews of the ones we’ve watched recently—but I’ve divided them into two entries, as it gets long. Here’s part one.

Fringe (2008–2013)

A US show. We saw all but the final two-thirds of the final (fifth) season, when the show seriously went off the rails.

I really loved this series, which starts out as sort of an updating of the X-Files concept and then goes off in its own direction. Every episode does have some sticky, body-horror-type aspect, which is not my thing, but those were very eye-closable and ear-pluggable, and meanwhile, the characters and stories were fabulous. I loved King Learianly emotional mad-scientist Walter, played by John Noble of Denethor fame. This guy has apparently gotten typecast as someone who is either going to have son issues (Fringe, LOTR) or father issues (Sleepy Hollow). The other characters (capable, reserved FBI agent Olivia Dunham, Walter’s genius-but-ne’er-do-well son Peter Bishop, sweet FBI agent Astrid Farnsworth; inscrutible boss of the Fringe division Philip Broyles) start out as familiar types but grow in depth within just a few episodes. In addition to having exciting episodic adventures, the show deals sensitively with family, loss, grief, trust, selfishness, wrongdoing, guilt, and redemption, along with identity and what makes us who we are. An alternate universe and, later, an alternate timeline give the writers a chance to explore who characters might be if things had gone differently. And with the exception of a couple of cartoonish bad guys, everyone has a chance to be forgiven and to make better choices.

Dark Matter (2015)

A Canadian show. A bunch of characters wake from stasis on an interstellar freighter with no memory of who they are. Someone among them erased all their memories—but it went wrong, and whoever did it lost their own memories, too. Instant mistrust. And they’re not happy about what they find, when they are able to discover who they were.

The premise was fun, and I liked the android character. However there is an Asian character whose storyline is so screamingly orientalist that pretty much every time he hit the screen, I had to scream. I'm talking painfully, cringeingly orientalist. Additionally, because the ship basically runs itself, the characters have nothing much to do all day except … hang out. So of course all the Asian character does all day is practice martial arts. Yeeeeaaaaah. Apparently a second season will air in 2017.

Outcasts (2011)

A British show that was cancelled after one season.

Refugees from a very near-future earth have settled the planet of Carpathia, which is earthlike except that it appears to have no megafauna or even medium-sized fauna, and is prone to violent sandstorm-like storms.

We watched this after Dark Matter, and it was a relief to have characters who weren’t simply cartoons or adolescent in their motivation and action (with the exception of the Evil American—who made a fun change of pace from the Evil Brit that you get in American shows, but who was pretty transparent in his deviousness). However, the pace was **really** slow. Also, I wanted the weird alien stuff that I knew would come to come quicker, be more present, and to be … slightly different from what it was. (Could we please do away with the trope of aliens just wanting to understand that thing we hooomans call luuurve?) Still, it was an okay way to chill out of an evening. Warning, though: it ends without resolving any of the plot developments, though some things are made clear.


These volunteer cosmos flowers are taller than I am--they're reaching for the sky.

tall cosmos

(comments off--it's just to evoke a smile as you go through your day)

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