Padded Room


I’d love to have a padded room. I could lock myself inside and stretch and smile and maybe even giggle a little crazily.

“I’m free!” I would whisper, then say aloud, then SHOUT. All that might answer could not, for the padding.

Inside would be a beautiful wood floor, supporting a comfortable chair and desk. Perhaps I’d have plants, too -a sort of alien variety that maintained itself despite neglect. Naturally, they and the furniture would sit before two glorious, turreted windows.

Didn’t I mention the windows? The view they afforded would lay your concerns about a full wall padding to rest; since, from it, one could see the rather lofty and inaccessible position of the room. It would need to be; to afford me the grandest sightings of brickwork buildings, iron-wrought balconies, French cafés, lushly summered parks, and tiny walking people far below.

Of course, it would always be sunset. The weather could change, and the seasons, but reddened rays of fire must continually warm my panic room in calming inspirations of color. ‘Twould be just the right shade to set the wood floor glowing.

As I’d sit smilingly before the computer, the finest quality audio equipment would begin to play. For light, thoughtful prose, realistic strains of instrumental genius would do. Dubstep film remixes would work well when deadlines were near and thoughts were far. Angry yell-songs could be perfect, justified irritants when life outside the padded walls might threaten entry.

My distractions, however, could not get in. I’d be blissfully unaware. I would read and write for hours as the world revolved in its real-time mundane monotony. How lovely, I’d note, that the padding is on the outside.


unsplash-logoKinga Cichewicz

Skinwalkers, IX

“Be that as it may,” Caill interjected, “We would certainly need someone with direct experience in such areas to even attempt the task…”

Nathan allowed her to ramble, to warm to her subject. Little did she know that he was learning about her personality, approach, nervous habits, feelings, and fears. The sensation he felt was almost like mind-reading. Like a telepathic sponge, he read nearly every bit of her person.

What would his dear father have said now? Nathan frowned slightly, knowing the answer would still have been an ignorant reprimand of a useless talent and wasted years learning more about it. “The Military, Kid,” the old man would have said, “That’s all you’re good for now. They always need targets.”

Caill was winding down. He brought his attention back to the present to hear, “Carapace simply can’t consider promises alone, no matter the reassurances given.” Her angular face pointed to aim directly at his. Her deeply-colored eyes coolly met his own rigid blue ones.

“Indeed,” he replied, equally cool. “How beneficial, then, that I have exactly the experience you mention.” Withdrawing his comm and setting it atop the touchsurface before them, he enunciated a single word: “Carapace.” Obediently, the small device projected a two-dimensional graph into the air. The white outline and red plot points reflected from three pairs of executive eyes.

Nathan gestured at his glowing creation. “Perhaps you’ve heard of a little company named Photap.”

“Of course-” Caill began, eager to interject, but he ignored her interruption and continued.

“I led a team of Advancement students for three months.” Nathan pointed at the dates listed under his image. “These three months,” he added. A pretty blue line climbed an extremely steep slope from the first plot point to the second during his indicated time period. “Photap had been working for over a year to gain front page report status, and ‘allowed’ our team to work on it because they found it impossible. As you can see from the rest of the data, their market was all uphill from there.”

At his statement, the blue line continued rising between points. It topped out beyond the last; forming into a dainty little arrow that intentionally pointed beyond the reaches of his y-axis number counts.

Pul, again, made a noise of surprise. “Your team brought about Photap’s sudden climb?” He asked, disbelieving.


Stone cleared his throat. Perhaps Nathan had convinced him, but the man did not wish to let Caill and Pul know of his opinion. “So, this was documented?” Stone asked.

Unlike Caill, Stone seemed stoic merely from tired habit. Nathan felt much safer fencing questions from him, though the others were obviously still present to hear what responses he might give. “I have some documentation, yes,” Nathan told him. Caill twitched involuntarily; she’d clearly not expected an affirmative.

“So, where is it?” Pul asked excitedly. “Next image?”

Caill snorted somewhat, as Nathan hesitated. “You don’t have the documentation?” She asked. If only she would make as much effort to mask her tone as her expressions, Nathan thought, Caill might actually make it to whatever higher-level position she sought.

“I have documentation, but it’s classified,” He adjusted the watch at his wrist, then desisted. Who was exhibiting nervous habits now? He chastened himself. Aloud, he expounded, “I never break an agreement with an employer.”

The three sat in silence for a few moments. Caill’s face showed some disbelief, Pul’s was of a happier animation, and Stone appeared to be thinking.

Finally, Caill spoke, “Are we to believe your claims when you have no backup documentation?”

“No,” Nathan told her, levelly. “You are to know my claims are true because I said they were. Rest assured, I have all the knowledge needed to undertake this task.” He sat back slightly, aiding an impression of power and authority. “Now, onto my ‘direct experience’ with epidermal conditions,” he stated, intentionally quoting Caill’s phrase.

Looking down at his comm again, he voiced another single word: “Skinwalkers.”


Continued from Skinwalkers, VIII.

My Mama Said


My mama didn’t say there’d be days like today.

She didn’t say I’d wake completely wasted from staying up writing for a job I took because I have no job skills and only the lingering hope that everyday writing will somehow help and the paycheck is something whereas writing what I feel is nothing.

And the children, the children are yelling and picking and putting each other down like mean little parrots of their emotionally-drained parent who stayed up writing and let them watch a movie as a treat and to distract them from herself.

But watching a movie wasn’t a Fun Mom thing after all because now my child with some behavior diagnosis or another is telling me exactly what he thinks and his disrespectful behavior is the sort that would have gotten knuckles slapped or backsides switched a hundred years ago but instead I’m supposed to hug him and reassure him that his erroneous feelings are valid and I love him no matter what.

I don’t remember my mama telling me there’d be days where I didn’t love my children, no matter what because they’re impertinent and rude whilst telling me that I am the rude one while I’m washing their clothes and making their food and cleaning their residual dirt from all the floors.

No, she didn’t tell me about how many floors were in a house and how many clothing items four small boys can manage to dirty per hour or how many times they’ll throw an empty cup in the sink till only the backup ones are clean and those free-from-restaurant sorts are what visiting guests drink from.

But, really, I’m sure my mama did not anticipate driving to preschool in sock feet, gym clothes that never saw exercise today, and hair that keeps falling out when a light zephyr passes through the air or when a child dislodges several in a rough sign of affection that was probably more of an attempt to show how upset he was over yet another Rude Mom gesture.

Perhaps she knew about the hopelessness, about the parroting, about the ramshackle hairstyle. Maybe she was watching us mirror her sadness and repeat her empty, futile anger as we did whatever we wanted. Did we hear her crying as we knocked incessantly at the locked door?

Honestly, I’m not sure what my mama said because I didn’t always listen.

unsplash-logoFinn Hackshaw

Recurring Story: Thirty-Eight

Lone drifts of snow breeze touched lightly across deserted chairs, a table, a brick wall. The detritus collected in forsaken corners for moments, then was rudely pushed on its airborne way again. This empty land had seen no life for days -not even the echo of a footstep. Pale noon sunlight filtered through the hurried mists, illuminating the space in an ethereal glow.

A wall, a windowed door away, the soft glow filtered through to dimly reflect in a pair of thoughtful eyes. Wil remembered this place like it was only yesterday, or perhaps the day before. Would she ever forget?

She moved her head to look round the room she sat within -a room that still spoke of the presence of hundreds of persons. Their shadows -or, perhaps, their essence- lingered on the abandoned plastic furniture. There was also a chair overturned here, a table pushed aside there. The litter of their lives blew slightly in the ancient air heating system.

“At least that still works,” Wil thought to herself, as she recalled the icy winds swirling beyond the glass doors. She hugged her arms around her thinning body and checked the knot of her fraying black scarf.

She glanced at the working clock hanging crookedly on the wall. Its second-hand foundered eternally at the six, pulsing helplessly; but its other hands continued on unaffected. They gestured to Wil that her wait was nearly over.

They would arrive soon.

Wil tried to distract herself in preparations, but knew it was no use. She had used up the remaining food just that morning. She carried no weapons. She had been forced to leave her pack and materials inside a small metal box just inside this labyrinthine building. If this meeting proved favorable, she would retrieve them after. If not, her information would remain safe beyond their hands.

A low, muted note sounded, startling Wil. One more automatic system was still in place, then. So much for silence and subtlety.

She rose from her slouch; pushed the blue chair underneath its matching table. Instinct had taken over: she sensed food. She would forage first, and meet her odd party after.

“It’s always better to meet uncertainty on a full stomach,” she reminded herself.

Moving to a doorway in the wall, she saw that her suspicions had been correct. There was food here. Or, at least, there were the remains of what started out as food. She peered through the yellowing sneeze guards at a few pathetic trays of the stuff. She wondered if consumption would sustain life, or bring its end more quickly.

Deciding on the former, Wil slid one of the trays out and into her hands. She turned and headed back to the blue table. Others were arriving; she recognized them.

It was time.


Continued from Thirty-Seven.


If I had a hundred mathematically-large-enough


I’d cram the strings together

in a woven vest and rise higher


through rain-gilded cloudscape.

I’d subsist on vapors, or maybe on sunrise ambrosia –

till atmospheric pressure (or somesuch scientific phenomenon)

popped just one


Then I’d drop more rapidly than I rose:

the most obsequious, impotent adherent to Gravity and his unalterable law.

But really, I have to admit

-as I revisit clouds and ambrosia rays and treetops drawing nearer-

I was never free

and soon

I am right back where I started,

amidst 99 deflated spheres of red.


Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge.

Limericks, Again

Alas for the death of Hugh Hannity
Whose boat was capsized by a manatee.
When they saw it swim by,
All the townsfolk would cry:
“There he goes! Oh the beast! The Hugh manatee!”

-Graham Lester


There was a young fellow named Flynn
Who was really remarkably thin.
When he carried a pole
People said, “Bless my soul!
What a shock to find out you’ve a twin.”



I arrived at the Hotel Belle Vue
With my kanga and motorbike too.
Said the doorman, “Good day!
Am I right when I say
That you’re needing a vroom with a roo?”

-Graham Lester


Thanks to Graham Lester for listing some kid-friendly rhymes.
See Mid-Week Limerick, for another I liked.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Sidewalk Ends

On December 27, I was faced with one of the greatest dilemmas for a bibliophile: picking a favorite book. The choice was to be made for my local book group, and had the further condition of being from the children’s category.

My only consolation for narrowing my 17 choices down to just one was that I promised myself to write about each -here, on this blog. I have therefore forgotten entirely about it since writing posts for King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub and The Adventures of TinTin.

Today I drove past an unusual sign. I’d have taken a picture, but that’s rather irresponsible driving while ferrying small children.

That’s why I did the safe thing and dug up this picture I took nearly three years ago.


At the sight, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my childhood and to one of the best books of poetry ever: Where The Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein.

“Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”


My mother read to us as children. She did so frequently enough that I remember, though not so much that I could say it was every night or even every month. Besides Ramona Quimby, Age 8All Creatures Great and Small, The Water Babies, and Twig, she read quite a bit of poetry. Her favorites were The Cremation of Sam McGeeBessie’s Boil, many of Ogden Nash’s shorter quips, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and many Shel Silverstein poems.

My favorite thing about the greatest children’s book authors is their ability to convey deep feelings and ideas in succinct, clever passages -passages even a child can understand. I respect their mastery of language. It is a great talent to funnel grand ideas down to fit neatly in the small spaces of a young mind.

I have acquired all of Shel Silverstein’s books of poetry over time, but Where the Sidewalk Ends is my nostalgic favorite for two reasons:

1. My family of origin owned only this book of his and we read it for years and years. It’s like the first dog we owned, and will always hold a special place in my heart for it.

2. Along with the text, we had an audiocassette of Shel Silverstein himself reading/singing/chanting his prose. When I read them to my children today, I hear his laughing voice and his background guitar strumming.

My children can’t hear him, poor things. Thank heavens for YouTube, in this case:

Peanut-Butter Sandwich
Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out
My Beard (my boys’ favorite)
The Generals
Boa Constrictor
Crocodile’s Toothache
Jimmy Jet and His TV Set
Captain Hook
Hug O’War

Not all of them were on the recording we had growing up, and fewer than those are currently on YouTube.

The man clearly had a wonderfully twisted sense of humor, and an amusing way of mixing and churning out rhymes. If you have not heard of Shel Silverstein, or only know of a few of his books, check out some of his others.

Runny Babbit is good. Or, The Missing Piece. Many people also like The Giving Tree. I go for his poetry the most: A Light in the AtticFalling Up, and Every Thing On It.

He was an adult, of course, so don’t let any audio program just run wild with everything he’s ever written and performed. That’s your parental advisory right there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Wikipedia just told me he wrote a few things for Playboy. 😉

Skinwalkers, VIII

“We had many applicants for this assignment,” Caill moved along, pretending they were engaged in everyday business; and not, as Nathan easily felt, a psychological battle. These were the only situations in which he felt grateful to his father’s unethical methods of child-raising. He might offer some post-mortem prayer of thankfulness, had he not known that the man had no altruistic motives behind the lifelong abuse.

Outwardly, he straightened somewhat and met Caill’s stare. He almost forgot to blink, since the sensation to do so had been removed with the eyedrops. Caill was equally cool; he suspected she needed no solutions to maintain her composure. Even her body language stayed in control. Given just the one tick he had been in her company, he would not have been surprised to learn that she controlled internal body functions one normally classified as autonomic.

Stone shifted slightly. “Tell us what you would bring to Carapace,” he said, also focusing on Nathan. To his side, Pul assumed a similar posture.

You’re on, Nathan told himself. Blessing his naturally-deep voice, he began his practiced speech. “Carapace is the leader in epidermal attachment procedures, by known reputation. Any person or entity in need of the latest advancements knows exactly which company to contract with.”

His words had echoed powerfully back from the hard surfaces of the bathroom at home, when he’d said them repeatedly since the interview notification. Here, he fought the muting of fabric surfaces.

There, his own pale features had watched him from the mirror. Here, three impassive faces reflected minuscule reactions.

“My goal is to bring Carapace to the forefront of any report; to finally ensure it receives the deserved recognition for being the foremost in its field.” Pul let out a small gasp, though Nathan was certain all three understood the import of his words. “My team will only raise the image Carapace shows the commercial market. They will understand hard work. They will work for the taste of winning. They will succeed.”

He realized he expected the lingering echo of his bass tones, as had happened during practice. Mentally crossing his fingers, he awaited the executives’ responses.

Caill thawed from the effect of his answer first. He pictured her like an arctic wolf, shaking his words from her thick coat like irritating bits of snowy fluff. Thus relieved, she warmed to conversational repartée. “Those are strong ambitions. I’m not certain you know the impossibility of such a goal.”

Her observation nudged Stone toward a similar realization more quickly than his mental abilities would have otherwise. “Our legality section has studied report recognition since Carapace went public -” he began.

“All the more reason for action,” Nathan cut him off. “We need to move before their influencers embed even more limitations. We need quick, precise solutions or Carapace will never be #1 as it deserves.”

Caill opened her mouth; closed it again. Clearly, he thought, she was changing tactics. She couldn’t know that he had anticipated any she might consider. “How exactly would a person of your situation and background expect to achieve that, or your other goals?” She tried to sound casual, yet haughtiness tinged her tone.

Nathan couldn’t help but smile, though he managed to release it as a determined, knowing smugness. He felt extremely pleased that Caill had phrased her insult so subtly. Clearly, she acknowledged his intelligence in the delivery, though she fought dirty in the content.

“My background is in detailed reference research, epidermal conditions, and institution management,” he began. Caill waved a perfect hand to interrupt, but he ignored her. “Besides this information, what you will know from this meeting is that I always do what I say.”


Continued from Skinwalkers VII.
Read to Skinwalkers,  IX.

The House That Someone Built

House Plans

I think most people picture building a house much like other adult life ideas. We think it will be customizeable, fantastic, and affordable. Let me tell you, however, that building a house isn’t quite like all that imagining.

If you’re going to be crushed by this dose of reality, head over to one of my happier posts and keep assuming life is a bed of roses and all that.

For the rest of you brave souls, we’ll take it in steps like a house plan. Or, more like a how-to on naïve decisions.

1. Customizeable
I used to think anyone who built a house drew up the plans himself and ended up with a castle. In our dating years, my husband and I would tell each other what amazing features our house would have if we ever got to build one.

There was a fireman’s pole, down to a ball pit. I’m sure I pictured a turret or two. Also, since we were teenagers, we planned a secret, underground path out to our secluded makeout gazebo in the backyard. Priorities, you know.

In actuality, the builders are the masters of it all. Whatever company you go with already has blueprints for buildings that are proven to not collapse on anyone, nor cause extra man hours of tunneling, and (most importantly) that their contracting companies have experience building a hundred times.

2. Fantastic
If the building company in charge of your future abode allows for changes or upgrades, it will have most of them arranged in packages. Again, they don’t want to deviate too much from what they know works.

Let’s say, for the sake of imagination, they were on board with a secret passage. First, they would have you agree to fork over a few extra thousand. Then, their design team would create new blueprints that have to be approved all over the place (by the city, namely). Finally, you’d decide you need to scrap the idea because putting toilets in the house is probably a better use of your funds.

So much for a ball pit.

3. Affordable
Okay, so I knew building a house was probably expensive. I hadn’t ever planned on being able to do it in my life. Some stars aligned, and the husband got a bit extra from a contracting job, we sold our current place, and I was pregnant at the time so anything could have happened and I wouldn’t remember it.

I already mentioned the cost of package upgrades, though that was just the surface of an enormous iceberg populated by narwhals. EVERYTHING costs extra to touch. We’re talking countertops, cupboard exteriors (and the detail and stain you want on them), fixtures, carpet (or other floors), under porch cold storage, extra shower head in the enormous shower space, better landscaping than topsoil and a few flowers, windows and surrounds, ceilings, finished basement, kitchen appliances, etc. etc. etc.


Let’s say you don’t listen to any sales pitches or wife beggings, and you go for the very basic price they advertised to draw suckers like us in. Still, there is most often a HUGE down payment required when you all sign the agreement. For our place, it was 20% of the house cost.

If your math is a bit rusty, that means you need to pay them $60,000 for a $300,000 house. Do you have $60,000 laying around? Better look into selling your hair. Maybe your teeth.

And, let’s just say you got past all that and made it into the house with all your stuff. You may notice that the basement is not finished, nor is the backyard, that your neighbors are walking all over the property line because you didn’t build a fence; AND they can all see you perfectly well because you need to buy window coverings, too.


I understand The Dream, because I went through the whole wishing and house-building thing myself. (That’s how I got all this insider information.) My husband and I walked through existing houses, and just couldn’t help feeling the fresh draw of a completely new, clean floorplan. Why settle for an older domicile, when we *could* have this better thing?

Existing houses have their problems, but at least the blinds are already on.

And, even though our house is fewer than five years old, we’ve already had to replace the water heater, built-in microwave, and main sprinkler valve. The clothes washer dying was a bonus, not to mention the garage door mechanism.

Maybe someday we’ll recover enough to afford curtains over the blinds.