Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Four

Wil waved goodbye to her father as she ran, so focused on Hope that she heard nothing of what he said. Rob watched his usual parting image of her hand, scarf, and coattails bidding him farewell. He swallowed bittersweet memory flavors and reached over to close the car door Wil had left open in her haste.

Wil rushed anxiously, feeling clumsy and unusually noisy compared to the shadow of a person she sought: the elusive and silent Hope. Hope seemed to melt from shuffling groups to winter landscape without solidifying. She was like air, though Wil had heard air make more noise than that when it moved.

Wil’s coat flapped; her scarf swished. Her boots clumped on solid ground, then crunched on brittle snow patches. The inevitable squeak sounded at each left foot clump once the snow’s moisture soaked into her heel. She could do little to move silently; and so, focused on hurrying instead.

Hope had reached the doors to inside when Wil barely snagged the girl’s backpack. “Hope!” Wil managed to gasp as she grasped.

Hope’s shyly smiling face turned around to Wil. She looked expectant, a fact that shocked Wil enough to claim the breath she’d just managed to find for talking.

Hope moved them to the side of the entryway, apart from the oblivious masses entering the school building. She continued to smile at Wil, a twitch of humor playing at the right side of her mouth. “Yes, Wil?” She asked kindly.

“I, well, I wanted to talk to you,” Wil said. She felt unsure how to phrase her question, and suddenly embarrassed at addressing someone she didn’t know well. Jakob often teased Wil for reckless actions such as this.

Hope waited. She appeared trustworthy enough.

“I wanted to ask you about sneaking,” Wil blurted. She glanced at Hope to see how this news would affect her, but Hope had not changed expression. “See, my dad got a letter last night, and I wanted to read it,” Wil finished.

Hope nodded and looked thoughtful. Wil watched her expectantly.

Hope met Wil’s gaze and smiled kindly again. “I can talk to you about the letter, but not until lunchtime,” she said.

The first bell rang, its dull note somewhat deflating the catalytic hope Wil had felt when she saw the girl.

Hope put her small hand on Wil’s coat-clad arm. Her deep brown eyes met Wil’s hazel ones, though they resided in a face much lower than hers. “It’s okay, Wil,” she assured her.

Then, Hope left. Wil caught fleeting glimpses of her between teenagers heading to classes, before remembering she, too, should be heading to class.

She breathed a sigh. Hope had given her something to look forward to.

 

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

The Smallest Fish Story

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I caught it -I did; my first fish! I’ll tell you how I did it:

First, all dressed, I ran to the pond. I found a pole, just laying there, and hooks and bait and such. I picked it up and swished it ’round, and -before it even hit the water- something wriggled at its end.

I brought it close and THERE! A flapping, fidgeting fish was hooked. He was a ‘beaut: all sparkly rainbows and twisting, flailing life.

I watched him gape-mouthed struggling, when I heard a shout, “Hey, kid! That’s mine!” and had to come back home.

 

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction

Cooking With Mum

Cookbook

Unlike many people raised these days, my mother (who forbade us from calling her the formal title of “mother”) stayed home to raise us, made dinner every night, and frequently baked extra treats or tried new recipes. We are requested to name a location and generation for this prompt; so I’ll say that I was “cooking with Mum” when we lived in Ridgecrest, CA and for most of my childhood outside of Salt Lake City, Utah (both in the United States). I consider myself both a Generation X and Y member.

I was always encouraged to help my mom in the kitchen. Perhaps, at my earliest memories, this was more of a “help,” than actual assistance, but I never recall her pushing me away or telling me not to bother her.

In fact, I know this was the norm even from toddling age. I remember reading over a cookbook in her collection compiled and printed by my first preschool teacher. As a child, I remember finding the page with the recipe I’d submitted: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, and thinking of how they were my favorite to make with her. I would have been three years old when it was printed.

My mom loves to try new things, and that was reflected in her cooking and baking. (That’s another thing -I never knew the two were separate classifications till recently because we did both, in equal measures.) She had cookbooks, yes -but also folders and a terribly-messy plastic container full of magazine clippings of myriad recipes.

My parents always insisted on us hand-making Mother’s or Father’s Day presents. In keeping with that tradition, my sister and I decided to tackle THE BOX of recipes one year. We were newlywed adults at the time, and probably could have gotten away with bending the rules due to age -but thought it would be great to finally have them all organized.

It. Took. Hours.

Days.

There is no way I would be able to complete such a task now, with my own family and a large house to maintain. We clipped recipes joined at the page, photocopied the backsides, and typed up handwritten ones with dubious titles and barely-legible handwriting. Then, we organized them by categories and alphabetized them and completely burned out at the idea of typing up tables of contents.

A surprising upside to this venture was that I made copies of my childhood favorites for my personal recipe collection. I’m smart, though; mine are kept in an expandable folder thing. I even have a couple of copies of my mother’s mother’s recipe cards (remember cards?!).

Another traditional activity associated with Mom and cooking was Christmas cookies. This is a bit of a baking/cooking crossover because most of the recipes were baked. I’m not going to classify something like Rice Krispies Treats as baking, however, and we frequently made a no-bake Corn Flake Kisses cookie that is similar to those gooey cereal bars.

Just before Christmas every year that I can remember, we would mix and bake at least four varieties of cookies or bars. Besides helping, our job as children was to deliver finished plates to all the neighbors. Each plate had several samples of each of the four or so varieties of baked/cooked goodies. Some neighbors reciprocated; though most did not hand-make their gifts to us.

This was an activity much like childbirth: I didn’t appreciate how much work my mother went through till I did it myself.

I have tried to continue this Christmas tradition. I even get my boys involved; they sincerely love cooking and baking with me as I did with my mom. However, I cannot get through the holiday event without shaving a recipe or two from my agenda and/or screaming in frustration at some thing that invariably delays production.

I only remember loving all the cookies and making it all happen with my mom, so hopefully that’s what my own kids are retaining.

Perhaps my mom found the tenacity to persevere because desserts have always been her favorite to make. She even bought a cookbook titled The All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book. Truth be told, it ended up being one of those that you leaf through, decide you’d better not make anything inside, and stick back on the shelf.

Cookbook Fat

The picture I included waaaay up at the top is an image of my Betty Crocker cookbook, turned to the page on how to make pancakes. I can’t remember where my red cookbook came from, but I do know I thought it imperative that I own one. This is because the main source of recipes for us growing up was my mother’s red Betty Crocker cookbook.

Every time we wanted to make pancakes, we’d pull the book down and let it fall open on the counter. It was always on the page we wanted, through years of training. That, and there was enough spilled and splattered pancake batter to weight them down. We could barely make out the ingredients, so it was a good thing we knew the recipe so well.

In looking over my own well-loved page, I can’t help but feel proud to have inadvertently continued that tradition in my own family. We may not be quite as blotched-out as my mom’s pancake recipe, but we’re getting there.

 

Thanks to Irene A Waters over at Reflections and Nightmares for the writing prompt: Cooking with Mum.

Skinwalkers, XV

Nathan exchanged the wristwatch and his original comm for the one resting secretly in the nightstand. “‘Bye, Grandpa,” he said, just before closing the drawer with a secure *click*. He retrieved his slipshods from the floor and rushed out into the bathroom.

This time, he yanked open the topmost drawer to locate his toothwash. Whilst he swished and swirled it inside his mouth for the recommended moment, he studied the reflection of a very human face in a very splotchy mirror. His cheeks bulged slightly with wash, but he thought that abnormality actually helped his plain and pockmarked visage.

After spitting out the solution, he made a hurried check for unexpected stubble. He wasn’t due to burn again for another week, but the odd case of a hair or two somehow avoiding purge did come up.

With or without extra facial hair, it was time to go. Nathan returned the toothwash to its spot, grabbed his new comm and slipshods, and headed out the door. He paused just long enough to slap the doorscan to lockdown the apartment, and to dress his feet.

The traffic sounds reaching him now were steadier, though an occasional large vehicle-bellow interrupted the vehicular white noise. He skipped quickly up the cracked cement stairs and began jogging down the block.

Many a strung-out street dweller turned his head at Nathan’s rapidly flying form. Those too far gone to know up from down or side from side merely dreamt a vision more real than life, of a skinny laborer sprinting past their cardboard home.

Puffing, panting, and pausing to collect his breathing brought Nathan within reach of his employer’s station. He continued jogging, albeit more slowly. He came to a large, black doorway at the building’s sunside. A green light flitted briefly across the panel he scanned. The door pulled to the side and he entered.

When he’d first been accepted to this job, he’d worked nights. Each time the door had opened then, he’d felt he was walking into an unknown cave. Surely something was lurking; waiting to grab him. Maybe his nightmares lay around, wanting to jump out and yell, “Boo!” They’d have a contest to see who was scariest, invariably ending in a draw.

Aftermeal sunshine, however, often shone at the lucky time he began this new shift. It lit up just enough of the space to lead him in a glowing path to the beginning of where autolights finally took over illumination.

Nathan walked forward quickly. He stopped outside a door reading Check In. Scanning his comm, he entered as soon as the door moved to allow him. A few, lingering coworkers were just finishing gear-up. The rest milled noisily about. As he moved to his own locker, he saw his friend, Shin, sitting on a bench.

“Sup, Shin?” He asked pleasantly, opening his assigned locker with his comm.

Shin looked up, and Nathan could see that Shin also appeared smaller and sadder than usual. Despite that, the older man smiled wryly.

“Hey, Nathaniel,” Shin answered. “Long time no see.”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XIV.
Read to Skinwalkers, XVI.

Children’s Songs That Don’t Suck

Some people are irritated by very specific things: nails on chalkboards, a supervisor’s voice, forks on a ceramic plate, or animals chewing with their mouth open.

For me, it’s children singing.

Now, now, now -don’t get up in arms and start defending anyone. Don’t ask me whether I’m a good mother, cringing whenever my offspring try to carry a tune. That’s not it at all. My real hate is when children sing what they ought not to.

Don’t believe me? Go listen to that devil’s creation: Kid’s Bop. Oh, wait. It’s spelled “Kidz Bop.”

Children singing off-key and innocently to pop songs would be my eternal torment. Actually -eternal torment would be facing a mundane chore like piles of laundry or dishes; and when I am literally folding the last sock or washing the last pan, something dumps another hour’s worth of work in front of me.

Wait a minute…

So, getting back to children doing terribly irritating things, I thought I’d save anyone else the trouble of torture by providing a list of songs geared toward young children that will not drive you completely batty (er… more completely batty).

1. Caspar Babypants
Did you ever listen to “Peaches,” “Lump,” or “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by The Presidents of the United States of America? If not, do yourself a solid and check them out. “Peaches,” alone is worth watching; I do so with my offspring frequently. Weird Al even parodied “Lump” with a song titled “Gump.”

That lead singer, whatshisname (Chris Ballew) went on to produce and sing a whole crapload of songs once he settled down and made mini hims. I like a lot of them; they’re cute, catchy, and have good lyrical and musical aspects.

2. Banaphone
This is an oldie but a goodie. I can’t allow the kiddos to replay this one as often as Babypants, but it’s still fun.

They also like the video, so win-win.

3. They Might Be Giants, for kids
TMBG has clever songs for all ages. The singer’s a bit nasally, but their lyrics are educational. Admittedly, we listen to much of the Apollo 18 soundtrack with our children as well; but those aren’t specifically for a younger audience (say, like when I mute that tiny cuss word at the start of “I Palindrome I”).

I respect a band that tries to keep things scientifically accurate. Like, releasing a new sun song when they felt the old one was misinforming.

4. Lots of classical pieces
My nerdy childhood was spent listening to the classical station on the radio and trying to be a snob of a higher degree. I listen to a wide variety of music now; and, by proximity, so do my children.

Still, music of this sort has the following advantages: clean, enlightening, traditional, timeless, and the YouTube videos don’t usually have some animated character dancing around and causing listeners to just stare at a screen.

5. Instrumental covers of awesome songs
Yes, the originals are better. For all the benefits I outlined above (like, no swearing or questionable video content), I will sometimes put these on to play while we’re cleaning the house.

And yes, these are not geared toward kids. It’s my list, though, so I make the rules.

6. Super Simple Songs
Now here’s a company who knows its audience. These are NOT songs to play if you don’t want small children staring at a screen, so maybe play it from computer speakers with the monitor turned off?

For a good half-hour or hour of needing to use the bathroom and text and adult, I am in favor of playing them as-is.

Super Simple Songs are almost annoying. I certainly wouldn’t pick them for an eternal playlist, but I will listen to quite a few without tearing my ears off my head.

7. Parry Gripp
If you have children, you have probably heard of “It’s Raining Tacos.” Don’t worry -I’m not going to suggest you listen to Parry Gripp all day long. I merely threw it on here because they’re fun, my spawn enjoy many of them, and I liked them back before they were annoying cool.

In fact, “Mr. Raisin Toast” was the first of theirs we listened to.

8. The Muppets
Again, these fall into the “watch it, too” category. But, you know -Sesame Street. Nostalgia. Subtle humor that doesn’t involve farting (always a plus when one has all boys, like me).

That’s about all I can remember for tonight. I’ll write another post about songs we all like (and are appropriate), in the mainstream music field. Besides those, do YOU have any to suggest? Don’t be shy; we’re always open to new songs and artists.

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Three

Wil awoke somewhat to the familiar irritation of a blaring alarm clock. She silenced it while maintaining a comfortable stupor of half-asleepness. The dark trees and mists of her dream still lingered round her subconscious, and confused her mind when mixed with the images her eyes sent of her plain, dark bedroom.

She yawned and chanced opening her eyes further. All was shapes and shadows of monochrome grays. She heard no sounds.

Her parents had been up late talking. Talking -and coughing, in Cynthia’s case. Her father rarely spoke, so Wil had found the deep rumble of his voice distracting at such a late hour. The coughing was not so distracting, since her mother had been doing it for such a long time -not that it ever ceased to be disturbing.

Wil decided that Cynthia would probably choose to sleep in, and complete her morning exercise with their neighbor. Rob could wake Cynthia to start her other routines before they left for school.

Wil’s assumptions were correct. After dressing, there was still no sound of waking from her parents’ room. She had to rouse them, then follow her father’s zombie-like tread around the apartment and out the door to their car.

She watched his face in the lines of streetlights, flashes of headlights, and dull glow of early morning as the car moved inexorably to school. Rob’s eyes opened only as far as necessary. His jaw -the entire bottom of his face- hung relaxed and unshaven below drooped eyebrows and tousled hair.

Wil wondered what had kept him up, and what still occupied his thoughts.

In fact, Rob emanated distraction more than fatigue. Although Wil was rarely able to sit quietly around her family, she picked up enough on his odd mood to not ask any questions.

Actually, what really silenced her were the only looks he had given her. Rob had looked at Wil when he first awoke with a sort of shock. The other two times, after he was more alert, his expression seemed sad and -well- distracted.

The only strange event of the evening before had been a letter he’d taken to his bedroom after getting home from work. If her father didn’t explain things by tonight, she was going to have to search for that letter.

Wil was not very sneaky, however, nor very good at finding what people hid.

“Bye, Gwen -er, Mina,” Rob said, as Wil exited the car at the curb.

At that exact moment, Wil was distracted by the vision of Hope walking alone. Maybe Wil wasn’t good at sneaking, but she knew someone talented enough to be listed officially.

 

Continued from Forty-Two (Again).
Keep reading to Forty-Four.

Into the Woods

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Silent sunlight dances down,
Caressing leaves and pine bough dreams;
Shaking, shading, singing, sighing –
Can you hear the moss-bent trees?

Fae or fauna tickle trailing, talking tendrils;
Tree-trunk tales.
Minstrels swear to sensing magic
As they tiptoe mossy trails.

Blundering, we mention silence;
Eagerly, we rush the woods.
Picking flora, chasing fauna,
Errantly, like child-hoods.

Hush! The tree Ent spirits moan,
Their dormant tree-guard watch awaked.
See and feel and breathe the spirit
Of the stretching woods remaked.

Will you walk with careful footfalls
Down along the forest floor?
Will you whisper wistful wond’rings,
Questioning their strange folklore?

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction
unsplash-logoGeran de Klerk

Bakery Blues

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Edward sat, staring at his monitors. “My uncle works at a cookie factory!” He remembered his nephew, Sam, bragging to his class. “The cookies with M&Ms!” Sam’s peers had been duly impressed; M&Ms were a much sought-after candy for preschoolers.

Edward had felt a little proud, but also knew the poor kid wanted some credit for having an uncle drop him off, instead of parents like the others had.

“Do you get to eat all the M. M. cookies you want?” a boy in a red shirt had asked.

“Didja bring us some?!” A small girl in braids demanded. A tiny chorus of, “Oh, yes; did you?”‘s and, “Where are they?”‘s immediately followed her innocent query.

Luckily, their sweet, young teacher came to the rescue. Walking up behind the excited group, she placed her hands gently on Sam’s shoulders and looked up at Edward. “Shhh! Shhhh!” She quietly reprimanded, till the chattering stopped. “I’m sure we can have Sam’s uncle come and talk to us sometime about his job.”

“An’ will he bring cookies?” The girl asked, determinedly.

The teacher smiled at her, then up at Edward. Edward shrugged and looked down at his shyly shuffling feet. “I’ll talk to Ms. Prutt about it,” she said.

As baked desserts and giant mixing machines and oven temperatures automatically scanned beneath his bored scrutiny, Edward easily recalled and replayed the entire exchange. He thought about what he would tell all those eager children if he were to go in and talk honestly about his job.

“Well, kids,” he imagined saying, “First, I get to scan my name badge. Then, I walk to a magical land called a locker room.” Riveted, that girl with braids would yawn. “After changing into a protective jacket, hard hat, goggles, and ear protection, I pick up …a tablet computer.”

At that point, Edward was certain, Sam would ask if Edward got to play games on the tablet. “Yes,” he’d have to answer, “The games are called Spreadsheets and I check little boxes to mark whether the equipment is working.”

They’d be so interested, he might have the entire class asleep two hours before naptime.

He sighed, watching the millionth cookie pass by the electronic eye. He decided a nap on his part might be averted if he went down for another physical inspection. Glancing at the million and first cookie on the conveyor belt, he determined to visit the Inspection and Packing area.

A short trip out of Monitoring, across a catwalk, down some gleaming stairs, through Personal Sanitation, and out an automatic door brought him in front of that same line of cookies. A handful of workers in masks, hairnets, and gloves idly monitored the cookies. The M. M. cookies, he told himself.

“Hey, boss,” a man named Asay said, looking up to see Edward. He probably smiled.

Edward smiled in return. “How’s it going?” He and Asay used to work together in Mixing, before Edward trained and applied for his current position. He’d talked to his friend about moving up as well, but Asay claimed to like Production better. Now that Edward had been an inspector for a few months, he found himself agreeing with Asay’s perspective.

“Bored yet?” Asay teased, guessing accurately. He casually removed a cracked cookie, sliding it amongst fellow discards to the side.

Edward pretended to be indignant. “Of course not!” He continued, “We, in Inspections and Monitoring, are never bored.”

Asay laughed, leaning over the conveyor to look more closely at the new batch. “Hey! These have all blue M&Ms!” He exclaimed.

Curious, Edward walked forward. Sure enough, the first five cookies had all three chocolate candies in a blue shell. “Should we keep ’em?” Asay wondered aloud.

They both watched the cookies move down the line. They reminded Edward of the cute class of preschool faces. Blue was Sam’s favorite color; the boy would love to pull one from a package. Edward could even hear Sam’s exclamations: “Look, Unca Eddie! All blues, just for me!”

Edward, standing near Asay on a busy production floor, turned to his friend. “Of course we’ll keep them. What kid wouldn’t want to find one?”

Asay’s dust mask pulled to each side as he grinned. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re right.”

They both watched the cookies for a few seconds longer; Asay more closely than Edward. Edward had a thought. “I’ll see you around,” he told his friend, turning to leave.

“Okay, bro,” Asay answered, waving behind him.

Back through Sanitation and out the other side brought Edward to the ovens. He continued on, waving at a few people he knew and trying to look authoritative. Soon he was at Mixing and Shaping, his old stomping grounds. Three people worked in this area. The younger two were chatting and watching the enormous mixing machine. Soon the scooping mechanism would deposit balls onto the baking racks. For now, it was churning and the workers were idle.

Edward approached the third person. She was sitting on a special stool just after where the dough would be placed on sheets and given candies. Standing to her side, he spoke loudly, “HELLO, CAROL.”

An old woman turned to smile pleasantly up at him. Her grey curls were kept at bay by a company hairnet and her gnarled, gloved hands rested on a company uniform that covered her lap. “Why, hello, Edward,” she replied warmly. “How are you?”

Edward waved vaguely. “Oh, fine, fine,” he began; then, “I’M FINE. HOW ARE YOU?”

If possible, Carol smiled more widely. Edward had the fleeting idea that she was exactly the sort of worker children would expect to be at a cookie factory. They wouldn’t expect her to be hunched over machines in a hairnet and plastic apron, of course. Carol belonged in a homemade apron, proferring a steaming batch she’d just pulled from her kitchen oven.

“I JUST WONDERED,” he yelled over the mixer and age-related hearing loss, “DID YOU HAPPEN TO SEE A BATCH OF BLUE M&M COOKIES?” He glanced at her face, and caught a wry smile cross the old woman’s lips.

Carol shrugged, raising her clasped hands. “Now, wouldn’t that be a nice surprise for a small child?” She asked him innocently.

The mixer buzzed, startling Carol and her two coworkers to action. Scooping cups lowered to the surface of the dough and began lifting and depositing balls onto baking sheets. Each ball passed beneath the M&Ms depositor and on to the ovens.

The youngest worker pulled the first ball from the tray and ran it through a nearby Composition Tester; it passed. The second watched the progress of the machines, ensuring they were all clean and moving easily.

Carol, as Edward knew well, closely monitored each passing pan. Every cookie must have three M&Ms. If they had more, she was to slide it to the side. Fewer than three, to the other side. When the batch had finished moving down the line, she would carefully place the removed balls onto their own pans. Those with extra(s) had one or more removed. Using a bin of M&Ms to her side, she added chocolate candies to dough balls that had too few.

“Yes, Carol,” Edward answered, out of her hearing. “Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise?” Smiling to himself, he began walking back to his main work area.

“Well, kids,” he now heard his future self saying, “At the cookie factory there is a grandma named Carol.” He planned to look around the room and ask, “Do you have a grandma? Does she make cookies?”

He climbed the stairs, warming to the story forming in his mind.

“Carol is just like your grandma, but she makes cookies for all the children in the world.” He’d bring out a bag. Why not? They got to bring home remnants, as long as they never re-sold them. Holding it so they could all see, he’d say, “Carol’s main job is to put the M&Ms onto each cookie that doesn’t have enough. One day, she pulled three blue M&Ms from her bag. ‘I wonder,’ Grandma Carol said, ‘if any little boys and girls would like to have a cookie with THREE BLUE M&Ms.'”

Sam, the boy with the red shirt, the girl in braids, and the rest would watch him closely; they’d wonder if he had brought them just such an amazing cookie. Edward paused at the door to Monitoring. Could he get a full batch of cookies like that? Maybe he could even get all reds, all yellows, or all greens.

Entering his office, he planned to ask his manager that afternoon.