It’s not about the destination, but about the journey. It’s not about reaching a place, but about realizing that the long road toward that place is, in fact, the place itself.

There’s no pursuit of happiness. There’s no reaching for something.

It’s just us and the long and winding road.

It’s just us and life.

And the way we choose to see things.

-Cristian Mihai, A matter of perspective

Wilhelmina Winters: Fifty-Five

“Mina, bring the bag,” Rob ordered. Wil scrambled to her feet and took off down the hall. He looked down at Cynthia, who nodded at him as cheerfully as she could manage. She was trying to suppress another round of coughing, fairly successfully. Rob nodded in return, ending the sort of conversation only those who have lived and loved together for so long can have.

Wil returned with Cynthia’s hospital bag. Rob gripped her shoulder in gratitude, and looked into her eyes. They were wide and full of emotion. “I’m going to get my things. Will you please text Jakob?” Unlike Cynthia, Wil always needed more instruction than a nod and a smile. Rob pressed his cell phone into her hand, and flew down the hall faster than Wil ever saw him move.

She stared down at the screen of her father’s phone. The scratched surface dimly reflected her dark outline. “Wil,” Cynthia whispered. Wil’s eyes shifted to her mother’s, though her focus was obviously elsewhere. She blinked, and slowly returned to the living room, the couch, the drawn face before her.

She needed to text her step-brother. They needed to go to the hospital.

Rob returned, just as Wil finished. She looked up at her father, and he sighed at the distraught confusion on his daughter’s face. He itched to run his hand along his jaw, but both were occupied with his things. Instead, his right hand jangled the ring of keys it held.

“Get your things, Mina,” Rob said. He cleared his throat. “Your book, maybe.” He thought to mention the letter, but decided against it. Wil took another hurried trip from the room, and Rob quickly stooped and retrieved the envelope and papers from where Wil had cast them to the floor.

When Wil returned, clutching her paperback novel and father’s phone, she found Cynthia alone. Her mother was still seated, shuffling her feet awkwardly into her shoes. Wil quickly dropped what she was holding and kneeled to help slide her mother’s heels into the simple gray loafers.

The apartment door blew open. The cold dark of winter afternoon framed Rob’s hunched, unkempt frame before he came through and slammed it back closed behind him. He came quickly to the couch.

“Get your things, Mina,” he said again. As Wil sat back out of the way, he reached forward to unhook the IV bag. Holding it upright in one hand, he leaned the opposite shoulder down to his wife to help her stand.

Cynthia laughed -a mistake, as usual. She coughed and coughed, her body’s jerking motions transferring to Rob’s stocky frame. The apartment fell eerily quiet in the small pause after she finished.

She looked up at Rob. She smiled, an expression that widened slightly at his mirrored response. “I was going to say, ‘I don’t need help to stand up,'” she said, nearly laughing again.

Rob nodded, then helped her to fully stand. He still held her bag. He looked back to his daughter, and Wil hurriedly grabbed the discarded book and cell phone. She looked around the floor, wondering at what else she was missing.

“Let’s go,” Rob said determinedly. They headed out of the apartment, into the great empty echoes of the encroaching storm.

 

Continued from Fifty-Four.

Reckon You’re My Neighbor

board-broken-builder-209235

Windstorms were frequent visitors to the valley; at least, they had been as long as Beck’s and Kirk’s families remembered. The only thing more frequent than wind, in fact, was their petty neighbor disputes:

Kirk called the police on Beck for some fireworks.

Beck’s wife blamed Kirk’s kids for broken gate slats.

And everyone said Kirk’s dog was just plain yappy.

But the day after the panel blew down between their yards, Beck showed up, right at Kirk’s door. “Reckon you could use a hand with that there rotten post,” was all he said.

And they got to work.

 

Carrot Ranch Entry

Skinwalkers, XXVI

Nathan stared at the message display far longer than necessary. Carapace’s truncated opening line drifted harmlessly above the tiny comm: N. Reed, We request…

A hundred tiny, useless details pulled at his attention as he felt his mind attempt to avoid whatever the rest of the text might be. His bed, as always, was unmade and carried a faint smell. The apartment was dim; was that vermin he heard? A light glowed from the edges of the night stand’s hidden drawer where he’d stashed the other, still-lit comm. The shower dripped. The security beeped. An air system lamely whirred.

Finally, he extended his left hand forward. Pantomiming a grabbing motion, Nathan pulled the Carapace text from its position; spreading the same hand outward, he maximized the airborne display.

N. Reed, We request timely response to the following action item: Secondary Interview. Set for Suncycle 3.14 1300. Team lead inpracticum.

The lungful of sustaining air he’d held onto came out slowly. He blinked. He couldn’t believe it, even with the success he’d felt after the preliminary interview precycle. He had passed the first test. They wanted him back, postcycle. He hoped he’d have enough energy after another full work session, a short rest between, and reskinning.

This second round would also be much more difficult, of course. It was one thing to read and respond to three executives; quite another to demonstrate his managerial and technical talents before an entire team with those three executives as likely audience.

His Midpath theatrics professor had been right, after all, in declaring their exercises to be only that. Nathan hadn’t believed her at the time. All four paltry students attending had felt her tests impossible. They’d been in public, lines fully committed, all while reading the audience response.

“Touché, Madame Dremé,” he told the empty room. Sighing, he added, “Display.” The messages returned to only show on the comm’s small screen.

Feeling utterly drained, he once again pushed the hidden knob and withdrew his work comm. He manually deactivated the light and returned it amongst the other memories stored there. The watch beeped. Just before the drawer closed, he removed it and strapped it onto his right wrist.

His stomach rumbled in hunger. His grandfather’s watch was antiquated, but correct: mealtime.

Grumbling enough to match his stomach, Nathan stumbled over the few steps between the bed and his food station. This time, he selected the pre-programmed Midmeal button and stood in usual, silent prayer as it ground and clunked through selections. The machine stopped after a few jiffs without his food appearing. He smacked the front, the side, then the supply chute.

A noise like an outlands beast clawing back to life came from the wall. Lights blinked back on and a singed bundle dropped into place. Half a jiff later, another singed bundle fell. Then another. Just before succumbing to permanent technical failure, a tiny tartlet -also singed- completed the food station’s final offerings.

“Zut.” If Franks was on better terms, he’d have been able to pass the extra food onto him -maybe even for some charge.

Nathan looked up at Sirius Sustenance Supply’s tarnished bracket still proudly attached to the top of his dead food source. He didn’t have time or charge for this. Grabbing the most edible-looking package, he bit off a chunk and returned to the sleeping area. He dropped his comm on the bed and removed the work one.

“Shin,” he told it, actually praying now. Please answer, please answer, please answer, sang his thoughts.

“Nathaniel?” Shin’s voice came through. Nathan released a silent, Thank you, with his relieved sigh. “Ever heard of messaging, you antique?”

“Yeah,” Nathan retorted, “You’re the one answering.”

Shin paused. “Hm.”

“Listen, I need a favor.”

“Hm?”

“My food station just died, but it dumped out three extra meals.”

“Hm?” Shin’s tone increased in interest.

“Yeah, I thought you might know someone who could use them.”

“I’ll be there. Message me location.” Nathan could hear him laughing as the call cut off.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXV.

 

Idiomatic, No?

Who’s got the clasp; did they ask for the
Touch of a buckle? My knuckles are
Right on the hook, yet they look so
Bright as a catch and they’re snatched since becoming that
Cute as a zipper, so chipper.
Push my Velcro; I don’t know who’d
Press the panic fastener. The last nerd?
Well, bust my stud, ’twas a dud and
Belly lacing was encasing them all.

Yet

Knob pusher was shusher; he’d
Hasp up, the yup. say:
Pin it, don’t win it; and
Snap your lip for the trip.

It’s a

Hot clip issue, you see.

A dummy with a colorful button-up shirt and jean jacket covered in pins at a museum

Carrot Ranch Literary Community Entry

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Four

All was silent in the small basement apartment, save for Wil’s weeping. Soon, however, the old furnace chugged to life and sent warmed air through its arterial vents. The worn, mostly cream-colored refrigerator began to hum along. Cynthia’s machine beeped periodically from behind the couch. They sang backup to Wil’s lonely dirge.

Time moved forward, dragging everyone along whether they willed it or not.

Cynthia waited. Rob sighed, wishing himself somewhere without confrontation or conversation. Then, he turned to look at the two most important women in his life. Wil had her face pressed into Cynthia’s shoulder, sobbing intently. His wife met his eye and smiled at him, sweetly through her tears. He smiled in return. He could never resist.

Cynthia looked down at the mass of brown curls resting just under her chin. “Wil,” she said gently. Wil continued to cry, determined to stay miserable forever.

Wil of Winterfell would never feel happiness again. Everything in the world was dreary, lonesome, and wrong.

Misty rain fell steadily around and upon her forlorn figure, huddled beneath the dark and dripping willow tree.

She glanced up to search, once again, for what she had lost. All that met her teary gaze was a sea of gray stones, black grass, and dark paths. No one at the graveyard was living except her, and she no longer wished to be.

Deep brown hair that once curled tantalizingly round a noble face now hung limply at each side of a pale, drawn visage. Hazel eyes shone wide and wet from matted lashes. A large, dirty overcoat barely warmed her frail, sickly frame. Health and vitality had been beaten away by pain. She had been beautiful once, before the rains.

Now, she could never hope again.

Cynthia began coughing. Wil automatically pulled away, to give her space to recover. She and her father watched Cynthia gasp and heave around each hacking breath. As frequent as this show had been, it never failed to alarm Wil. She slid to the floor, waiting for its end.

Cynthia finally stopped, then looked up at Wil, then Rob. She smiled weakly, and breathed a few times in and out. Another coughing fit began.

Wil suppressed her internal panic. Cynthia sometimes had multiple episodes. It would pass. She looked up at her father, and found more than her eyes mirrored in his face. He was also worried. They both watched Cynthia again

And again.

Finally, in a drained and shaking voice, Cynthia said, “I’m sorry, Wil, Rob. I think we need to go back to the hospital.”

 

Continued from Fifty-Three.
Keep reading to Fifty-Five.

Which Way?

If the world were not there
no obstacle
no barrier
no hand pushing back
no
no

If the world let you grow
unfettered and                      free
unrestrained
unlimited
until
’til

Reaching, spreading, stretching
Just the bend and twist
of your mind
the
lift of your feet
the
buoyancy of your dreams

Tendrils of beanstalk proportions
breaking cloud
piercing limits
felling giants
never
ending imagination

If the world    let     go…

 

In answer to Frank Prem‘s magnificent poem, which way.