What’s For Dinner Tonight: Beer bread, and Cheddar Corn Chowder!

Someone mentioned to me on here that he likes a good food post now and then, and since I’m a foodie myself, I say: Bring it on!

What’s for dinner tonight?

1069793_10202209849242407_6474480914438482573_n

That’s bacon for a garnish on top! YUM!

Only beer bread with a fantastic Cheddar corn chowder, which is chocked full of potatoes, corn, ham and bacon. You make this fantastic cheese sauce for it and it all comes together in this wonderful melody of stick-to-your-ribs goodness. Found the recipe, here.

I was also surprised with how easy the beer bread came together, too. Just flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and beer. Pour butter over the top and viola! Buttery crusty goodness. Like everything, I googled this recipe, and you can find it at food.com, here.

10687038_10202209849442412_8314907496123985708_nDoesn’t it just look fantastic? And why haven’t I made this stuff before??

Beer bread: a sweet, hearty bread that is buttery, with a crunchy crust that is fantastic for dipping into soups. I’m making this one again!

I’m discovering lately that I’m starting to love baking more and more. Call it old age, science or just the fact that its relaxing to mix ingredients and see it develop into a sweet and glorious concoction – I can see how people bake when they are stressed or upset about something. It is definitely a comfort after a long and stressful day.

It was our first time making corn chowder and beer bread and we were so proud with how it turned out! What do you guys like to make?

Got any comfort foods that you want to share? This corn chowder girl is all ears…get it? Get it? ;)

What a nice way to spend this fall rainy night!

Happy Writing (and eating) everyone!

Appreciating the Fall Colors: Today’s Nature Walk

10726818_10202176535569586_205909727_nThere is a trail that runs behind the laundromat here in Binghamton, NY. They call it the rail trail and it is a paved trail on the old rail line that is great for walking, biking, and roller-blading.

While I was waiting for my laundry to dry today, I headed out and decided to get some walking in as the weather was gorgeous and the day mildly warm.

And little did I know…

There are some nature trails that branch off the main trail!

10721402_10202176529289429_368447150_nI’m a country girl by heart and grew up walking the trails next to my house. So this felt like a dream and a gift to me. There is nothing more magical than the woods…surrounded by trees, fresh air and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.

woods1I saw deer scampering away from me as I wandered on; a few bunnies, too, and everywhere there was the rustle of chipmunks, birds and squirrels scurrying away from the path. Even though this little sanctuary is wedged between two highways, and you can hear the distant sounds of trucks and cars rumbling along the road, it is amazing to me how life manages to flourish anyway in the small, forgotten places of the world.

And I stumbled upon this beauty:

10721259_10202176531649488_1045797590_nA Great Egret, stopping to rest in the swamp here as it migrates South. They are usually pretty rare in this area. (I wish I could have gotten a better shot, but my crunchy steps on the leaves scared it away.)

I was amazed at the vastness of the landscape…such a small woods, but so many mysteries, so many great surprises.

10723530_10202176534209552_1183297525_n

10721290_10202176530009447_1936874047_nI am a Summer girl through and through, but Fall is such an amazing time of the year for me. It feels like a season of great reflection, to remember to appreciate the beauty of the things around you before it goes away for a while.

10728665_10202176533209527_1977863149_n 10719034_10202176533849543_454068244_n 10721077_10202176530089449_584952512_n Such a great day! And I was very pleased with the shots I got. What do you love about Fall?

Is it the food? The weather? The colors? Comment below if you want!

Happy Writing Everyone! :)

15 Minute Journaling: The Butterfly

I wanted to post last night, but work has kept me busy the last few days. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to relax, and just let the words take me – time for a 15 minute journaling session.

notebook in candlelight

And for those of you who don’t know, “15 Minute Journaling” is something I used to do in one of my creative writing classes in college. The teacher would write a prompt on the board, and then we would write in our journals for 15 minutes.

It’s amazing how many stories have come out of those sessions, and amazing how much of a stress reliever it can be sometimes.

15 Minutes here I go! But first I need to find a writing prompt. Google brought me to this page > http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts < Writing prompts on writersdigest.com.

They remind me of the prompts my teacher used to give us. Quirky and not at all like the norm. My writing prompt app never gives me the idea of writing about a character with an extra arm…everything is so normal. Ah, what defines normal anyway?

Here we go. 15 Minutes on the clock please! Feel free to write along if you want! This is the one I chose:

“A Few Sips Off” – You take a few sips of your drink and feel different. That may be because your torso has an extra arm protruding from it. Another sip, another arm. Then a wing. What happens if you finish the drink?

I asked the magician to give me a potion to make me beautiful. In my mind, I had it all figured out: a dress shimmering a blue and green, like the tail of a mermaid, a pretty version of the Cinderella dress. This isn’t what I asked for.

I choked on the last few drops. It tasted like copper, like the time I bit my tongue and blood poured into my mouth. It was sweet and metallic and I gagged. I looked down at the vial that had held the purple liquid in horror. It crashed to the ground and shattered into a million bits as my fingers began to change. I was shrinking! My arms became long and black and hairy. Two arms sprouted from each side of my torso. My jeans and t-shirt disappeared. My long body was black and green-blue iridescent. I cried out as wings sprouted from my back, long and blue and black. My face elongated and my vision blurred. I had freaking antennas on my head! Was I a butterfly? I felt the wings on my back flit nervously and air brushed my face.

Source: desktopnexus.com

Source: desktopnexus.com

I felt cold, and clammy and brand new. Like the new skin on a wound just beginning to heal after someone ripped the band-aid off. I wasn’t ready for this bright new world. I tried to speak but nothing came out. My vision had doubled, and then quadrupled. I had been standing next to the table in my dining room…now I was standing on top of it. The table shuddered underneath my feet as I watched a huge form coming my way. It was the dark shadow of my tall, older brother coming to the kitchen for a snack.

Would he see me? Would he squish me? Or am I to remain like this forever? Beautiful and tragic? No, tragically small. Forever contained in this simplistic beauty, but as powerless as I was before.

Help me big brother, I cried silently and jumped up and down, my wings lifting me to one spot and then the next. Help!

***Oh, interesting. I have a few more minutes on my 15, but I think I will leave it at that.

What inspires you guys to write? Any writing prompts that you like to use?

Happy Writing!

Interview with K. Starling: An insight into self-publishing

bookIf you missed my review of K. Starling’s novel In Beauty’s Veins you can read it here.

In Beauty’s Veins is a novel about the journey of four women all united by a Healer named Daphne, who comes to the town of Halfawaise with the intentions of finding a lost neighbor and to become a healer there. But the town is immediately suspicious: is she really a Healer that the Legends talk about?

It doesn’t help that another legend follows her there, when Berri, one of the women who befriends Daphne, discovers someone who was attacked by a Vampyre. As Daphne tells her story to her new friends, suddenly the things that used to be legend aren’t legend anymore.


Miss Starling was able to take time out of her busy day to sit down with me and have a chat about her new novel, self-publishing and the writing process behind it:

Me: What was your inspiration for In Beauty’s Veins? When did you come up with the idea?

K.S: It’s kind of embarrassing actually. There was a melange of reasons. It started as a romantic fantasy in my head inspired by a how-to-draw Gothic Manga picture that I found really sexy. Then Twilight came out and I thought, “Oh, I could probably make money on this fantasy.” But then I cared too much about my characters, so I actually developed them. And I actually get annoyed by romance being the end-all of any story, so it pretty much died.

Me: I did notice there was some romantic element, but it was refreshing to see all the different themes, like woman’s rights, sexuality, forgiveness, self-worth….was there a particular reason you chose to write about such things?

K.S: It was in the forefront of my mind just then. Our culture is at an interesting point in which we’re really self-reflecting on how we view people based on differences and I felt like exploring some of my own experiences through this story. These are topics that make people uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be uncomfortable about them.

Me: Nice. How long did it take to write the novel?

K.S: From start to finish, about seven years, but bear in mind that the first three drafts were an almost utterly different story. Berri didn’t exist until maybe three years ago and then I was working full-time and took a hiatus. Once I actually outlined it properly and dealt with the addition of Halfawaise into the plot (cultural and language development) it took me about a year and a half.

Me: It’s funny how first time writers always think that writing a book is a quick thing. It definitely does take time to develop. Why the title that you chose? Was there some thought into it?

K.S: It’s meant to allude to the allegorical reference to Beauty and the Beast, but also the depth and grit of the story (so veins and not blood, which has almost become sexualized as a word). I didn’t want someone picking this up thinking it would be fluff.

The world inside of K. Starling’s novel, In Beauty’s Veins.

Me: Going back to Halfawaise and the world that you’ve created…how did that come about?

K.S: I’m interested in cultural development. A lot of my studies have been deeply rooted in cultural identities, primarily Chinese and Celtic cultures. However, my interest definitely veered based on information I learned. I was curious what a Scandinavian Empire might have looked like had our continents drifted differently. I thought it would be interesting, too, to explore a pseudo-French Revolutionary culture that tends towards Communism and Atheism and how the cultures converse across borders.

Me: And the language that you created in the book? How did that come about? Was there some specific inspiration you used for that?

K.S: They’re purely derivative. I don’t really intend to do much expansion in the story, so I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time developing languages. (Laughs.) You’ve got Atwainsk, which is basically Scottish Gaelic plus some Germanic influence, and then Nordsk is just a combination of Germanic and Scandinavian languages. I did a little work on dealing with Middle versus Old versions of the languages (like Keltoig), but not a lot. The one Chinese expression, however, was made up. It’s Mandarin in meaning, but it’s not a real cheng-yu.

“Cao you bu hua” 草友不花  “Grass friends don’t flower” – it’s from the scroll Anwar shows Daphne. Chinese has a neat history of four character idioms (cheng-yu). I love them.

Me: On a different note, the story is told from different points of view…why did you choose to go that route?

K.S: It was originally a first-person sequential narrative, but I decided Daphne wouldn’t narrate first-person. That’s not the way she thinks. So I played with third-person before deciding that I wanted a different perspective on her story, so I introduced Berri, her polar opposite, to look at things with new eyes. But then Berri turned into such an interesting character that I wanted other characters to share their thoughts on her, so I expanded on Nade and Gerri, both of whom have their own slants. I just wanted to look at the different aspects of the landscape, to see what that felt like. Berri is just so ego-based that telling a story purely from her perspective would be exhausting, and Daphne is so conflicted and gentle that she wouldn’t be able to capture the facts.

Me: I think it was a good choice, the story felt more complete because of it. Is there any character that you identify with?

K.S: All of them to some extent. Although, I call Daphne my drunk self. She’s so determined to like everyone. But I have my Berri days for sure.

Me: Would you say Daphne is your favorite?

K.S: Daphne is the character I most admire, but I don’t think she is my favorite. I feel very protective of Rose, actually. I feel like I failed her as a writer sometimes. I wish I could have given her more screen time, in a manner of speaking. Her life was just so painful.

Me: I know you mentioned that you didn’t intend to continue the story, but can we look forward to a sequel, or another novel in this world?

K.S: I’m debating it. If I do, it would definitely be a different cast of characters, although I would take some time in Halfawaise. I haven’t decided. I have some ideas, but not enough to do much about it.

Me: One more thing on the novel: When I was reading it, I was toying with the idea that the four women really are parts of a whole, as each of the women have such different personalities…Berri having a darker side, Daphne optimistic, Gerri the nerdy type, Yolain who is concerned about her looks…combined into one, the four really do represent many of the issues that women struggle with in today’s world. Any thoughts on that?

K.S: With Daphne and Berri, I was definitely playing with polarity. Yolain and Gerri, who my writing group referred to as the Two Stooges, just sprung up for me. Gerri interests me for a lot of reasons, of course. She struggles with her sexuality, her desire to learn things, and to stay somewhat hidden to maintain that independence. Yolain projects confidence, but is very much living in constant fear of failure. Keep in mind she’s been carrying her experience of near-capture around with her for years. I think she understands better than anyone what it means to be a woman in the Skalda Domain.

***AND then we touched on the benefits of self-publishing…

Me: Why did you choose to self-publish? What are the benefits you think?

K.S: Frankly going the traditional route with this book never crossed my mind. It doesn’t fall neatly into any genre and is really hard to market. If a publisher picked it up, I can almost guarantee they’d want me to clean it up – remove the swearing, sexuality, and pump up the romance. They’d want the vampyres to be sexy, and that was against my philosophy.

Me: You mentioned that you had other projects you were working on…do you think you will self publish those as well?

K.S: That’s the plan. The next one takes place in Horseheads, NY, actually. It might have a place in traditional marketing, more than In Beauty, but it’s pretty brutal. I like maintaining creative control. I have no illusions that I can do this for money, and I don’t really want to. I like my day job and I enjoy my projects.

Me: Are there books that you might consider getting an agent, or publisher for, or no?

K.S. Probably not. I feel that I would remove part of the fun. I’m a project manager by day; I’m good at this stuff. I don’t need someone else putting a deadline on me. A lawyer, however, probably wouldn’t hurt. (Laughs).

Me: It is definitely a great ambition. And it says a lot that you are doing this for the fun of it, for yourself. How do you personally market your novel?

K.S: I’ve been really busy. Mostly I bought 50 copies and have persuaded some local businesses to carry them for me. I’m going to head over to B&N here in Madison and back in Elmira to let them know I’m local. I have a few book clubs I know of that have interest in it. Otherwise, I’m going to Johnny Appleseed it. I have some post-card style advertisements and I travel a LOT, so a few copies will find their way into international hostels and libraries.

Me: Did you hire an editor to proof read your novel at the end?

K.S: I did. It’s a bad idea for me to proof my own stuff.

Me: Is that the best way to go, you think? Also, getting someone to do the cover art?

K.S: I do. I would feel so horrible if my baby got out there and had a sloppy typo going on. My cousin has a friend in NYC who’s an illustrator who was looking for work and I know a local graphic designer. I wanted a nice-looking product, so I went big. Also, it’s a lot of fun to collaborate with other artists. I have a buddy in Brooklyn who did some costume sketches for me (on my website) and I’m so glad I hired her to do it. It really brought some of the scenes to life for me.

Me: I’ve always wanted to do that for some of my projects…it seems like such fun. What words of encouragement do you have for other writers out there who are trying to self publish?

K.S: It’s a serious investment of time. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Be ready to invest a little cash if you want a nice product, or else be ready to do a lot of legwork yourself. Know what your goal is with the project and balance that against what you can actually commit. I count myself lucky that I don’t need to do this for a living, because it’s a very competitive market and it’s almost entirely luck-based. If you’re not doing it because you love it, take a step back and find out why.

Me: I think all the outside views definitely make it hard to write what you want and for yourself, especially when you have others judging you. Did you struggle with writer’s fear at all? Writer’s Block?

K.S: I have moments to be sure. I try to just write piles of garbage until I get through whatever is in the way. I’ve actually started doing erotica on the side (under a pen name) just to keep writing so I can go crazy without fear of judgement. Fearlessness is critical when you’re expressing yourself, you know?

Me: Great words….How often do you write? Is there a specific time a day that works best for you? And did you have a regimen that you stuck to for writing In Beauty’s Veins?

K.S: I feel like every writer has their own mode of habit. With my job and hobbies, I can’t commit a lot of time to writing on a regular basis, so I try to mentally write (live in my head) when I’m waiting in lines or traffic to keep it going. When I travel, I write probably between 1 and 5 hours a day. With In Beauty, I hammered out 50,000 words when I was in Taiwan for 6.5 weeks. I have to make space away from obligations, so that means getting out of my house and away from people I know. I actually made a Ulysses Compact with myself for In Beauty… I wanted to finish it by a certain date, and I was having trouble motivating at the time, so I threatened to shave my head if I failed. I did not fail.

Me: (Laughs) Would you have really shaved your head?

K.S: Yes. You have to keep your word to yourself, you know?

Me: Oh, I know. What are some of your next projects, if you don’t mind me asking?

K.S: Sure! I’m working on a semi-apocalyptic piece in which magic is released again into the world (Unleashed), but it follows the paths of two sisters who hate each other, and who find very different ways to survive. I’m also writing a novel based on a film I made in college called Styx & Stones, which is about two college students who can interact with ghosts and how they cope. I’ve also got three others on the back burner that somewhat tie into the first two, but I haven’t decided to what extent yet.

Me: Do you have your own website/ blog where we can find updates?

K.S: Yes. It’s www.kxstarling.com. You can find my facebook account under K. Starling.

Me: Do you have any writing quirks or habits that you want to share?

K.S: I always make soundtracks for my books before I write them. And then I listen all the time until the novel is done.

Me: That’s awesome. Is the soundtrack on your website?

K.S: It’s not, but you know, I’m thinking about it. I’m planning to update some content next week when I’m off work. That could be fun!

Me: For fun, last question: What is your favorite book? Your favorite author?

K.S: Favorite book is probably The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. It was magnificent. But I go through phases. Favorite author is probably Lu Xun, because I admire him so much. He wrote short stories during the Chinese May 4th Era – mostly cultural criticisms. Absolutely stunning.

*****And that’s that! She was able to offer us some great insight into self-publishing… and how important it is to make sure that the product you have out there is the best that it can possibly be!

I like what she says about Writer’s Fear:

“Fearlessness is critical when you are expressing yourself.”

Happy Writing everyone!


K. StarlingK. Starling has a Bachelors degree in Comparitive Literature and a minor in Chinese from Binghamton University. She has studied at National Taiwan University and University of Nottingham. In her spare time, she likes traveling, guzzling tea, and is training to be a Yoga teacher. In Beauty’s Veins is her first novel.

In Beauty’s Veins can be found on amazon.com, here. Look for updates on her website at www.kxstarling.com and on facebook at K. Starling.

Review: In Beauty’s Veins, by K. Starling; a book about friendship, women, and self worth

Later on today, I will be posting an interview with K. Starling herself, about her new novel, self-publishing and her writing process, but first a review:

Novel: In Beauty’s Veins, by K. Starling

Genre: Fantasy / science fiction

Audience: Any woman who cares about the rights of her fellow women, although guys might be drawn to its interesting world and unique take on vampires.

Review: 

When I first picked up K. Starling’s book, In Beauty’s Veins, I joked that it had some heft to it, but little did I know that later I would also be using this phrase to refer to its content. Here we have a novel that touches on many themes: A woman’s rights and sexuality, self-worth, friendship, forgiveness, revenge, monsters, death, and healing…just to name a few.

To find this all in one novel is like finding a gem amongst the stones. There’s just so much in this novel to think about.

In Beauty’s Veins is a novel about the journey of four women all united by a Healer named Daphne, who comes to the not exactly desirable town of Halfawaise with the intentions of finding a lost neighbor and to become a healer there. She is of course met with some road blocks: the town medic, who doesn’t want another Healer in his town and the suspicion that follows her title: Is she really a Healer that the Legends talk about?

It doesn’t help that another legend follows her there, when Berri, one of the women who befriends Daphne, discovers someone who was attacked by a Vampyre. As Daphne tells her story to her new friends, suddenly the things that used to be legend aren’t legend anymore.

Told in a mixture of third and first person perspective, Daphne, the Healer, manages to heal more than just flesh and blood; she touches each woman’s heart and soul. Especially Berri, who was accused many years ago of murder and has no friends.

Through Daphne’s story, we learn how the world should be, (and the way it often isn’t); how important sometimes one friend is to a person truly alone in the world. How a woman should be defined by how she sees herself, not her sex.

It challenges the concept of who is a monster: a vampire, who by definition is a monster, or a human, who rapes and kills? It touches on right and wrong. Could an action so innocent, really cause so much harm? And how important it is to love yourself in order to love others.

This is a novel worthy of a good book club, as there are a lot of things to talk about afterwards. Here you will find a world that is truly different than anything I have read out there. Starling has weaved a tale that’s so refreshing in its complexity, in the character’s friendships and the compassion they show towards one another.

Here’s a peak at the map to this world in the inside cover:

K. Starling’s In Beauty’s Veins can be found on amazon, here. And look for updates on her website: www.kxstarling.com.

Stay tuned for more K. Starling this evening!

Magnetic Poetry: Pirate Version, “Treasured”

I’ve always wanted the magnetic poetry kit, but leave it to me to have my first one be a pirate version. This is me getting creative as I stick them to my refrigerator. Happy Friday everyone!

imageIt reads:

deep secrets

I like him

every   foul   rogue   bit             not

yer silver       yer ship

what jewel ye be land’in

this be a strong pirate

to     treasure     me

NEW READS: Featuring Author, K. Starling’s book, In Beauty’s Veins

I have been offered a great opportunity. One of my former classmates and friend, K. Starling, has self-published her own novel, In Beauty’s Veins, and has agreed to do an interview with me!

The opportunity will give us some insight into self-publishing, her writing process and of course her work of fiction, which is drawing me in with its incredible world and great characters.

10668432_10202063361700310_926469207_nTaken directly from the back of the novel itself, In Beauty’s Veins is a story about friendship, forgiveness and finding hope in dark places against all odds.

Five years after she is torn away from everything and everyone she knows, Daphne is tired of her fruitless search for a lost friend. Leaving her homeland in the Atwin Counties, she arrives in the merchant town of Halfawaise ready to open a medical practice. However, her medical training is unusual since she is a Healer, a being out of Atwin superstition that the local medic denies ever existed. The town is immediately suspicious of the newcomer when she forms an unlikely bond with the town pariah, a girl long suspected of murder, and their suspicions only grow when a local man is savagely attacked by another Atwin legend – a vampyre.

Struggling with a language and culture not her own, Daphne slowly reveals the secrets of her dark past to three young women with their own conflicted agendas, all the while trying to prove her worth to the skeptical town of Halfawaise.

Look for a review and my interview with K. Starling two weeks from now, Saturday, Oct 4th!

You can also find K. Starling’s book on amazon.com, HERE.

I am very excited about this! :) Hope everyone is having a great Saturday!

Finished Short Story “Endtown” Check it out!

Alas, sickness has taken me these last couple of weeks, so I have been unable to post. On the plus side, I did manage to finish that story, “Endtown” and while it’s no great masterpiece, I am still pleased with the results.

My experiment in posting a continuing story on here taught me some things too.

1). I can finish a story. It doesn’t matter how it goes, I am capable of creating something with a beginning, middle and end. There is no more room for self doubt here.

2.) Even the best stories aren’t perfect from the get go. What IS important is the ideas and characters that you manage to create. I keep forgetting that. There’s always room for something to get better, to grow as you do.

3.) And lastly, PLOT. One of my weaknesses. I have a tendency to create characters, a setting and then freeze when there comes a time to put them somewhere. Plot, to me, is something that grows as the characters do. Give them free range to take you where they will, however, remember that you are the master of this story, and you decide what makes a good story. And that includes weeding out the scenes that don’t really go anywhere.

I was very proud of the characters and situation that I created here. While “Endtown” is a short story on its own, I definitely see it as a jumping off point for something greater, a novel with the characters I created here, when I have time to start another large project. All in good time. And, without further ado…here it is.


A quick refresher:

endtown The story focuses on Genevieve, a teenager who died way too early. Both her and the friends she makes there are in Limbo, or “the in-between,” in neither Heaven or Hell. They are the Watchers; the eyes that no one sees on earth, silently helping the Angels fight a war between the demons.


THE train rattled, a rata-tat-tat, a rata-tat-tat, ending with a drawn out horn as it whooshed past. The girl standing under the street light turned towards the sound. She could see the train’s cars flying past in between the distant buildings, a blur of colors, grey and blue and a burnt red all blending together. One minute there and the next gone. She tossed a ball up and down in her hands, up towards the street light, which turned everything in the darkness a pale sort of yellow.

She leaned down and squinted at some writing that someone had chalked onto the sidewalk: a hand with the middle finger sticking up all done up in orange and pink. Underneath the drawing someone had written in white chalk in capital letters: UP YOURS.

“Ridiculous,” she said as she paced back and forth. “So angry,” she muttered. “So…undisciplined.”

“You of all people should know,” said a hissing voice next to her elbow, with a faint laugh.

The girl jumped. “God! You scared the shit out of me!”

She looked down at a green and white striped snake who was stretched out on a blue garbage can. “Of all the forms you could choose, and you come to me like that.”

“Oh, forgive me your great worshipfulness,” hissed the snake. “Next time I’ll come as a chipmunk…or a kumquat.”

“A kumquat? What the hell is that? Anyway, it feels like I’m talking to the garbage can. I’m sure it looks like it, too.”

“Hey, if cans could talk,” said the snake, with a slither of his tongue and a wink. “I wonder what they would say?”

She looked across the street at a rundown convenience store. It was a white square building, with a faded coco cola sign out front. “Probably something like it stinks in here.”  She noticed that the neon sign was supposed to say Jerry’s, but an R was missing. “Have you heard from the master tonight?”

“Not a thing. I thought that is why you called this meeting?”

“My job was to watch this small town. Watch the train, watch the exports, watch the people, and yet…nothing. I haven’t heard from anybody in weeks.”

“Have a little faith Gen,” said the snake. “That’s what we are here for.”

She folded her arms across her chest, as the wind rustled a chunk of brown hair by her face. Freckled, blue-eyed and dressed in a red t-shirt and shorts, she felt trapped by her boyish figure, by the fact that she never could grow up, no matter how much she wanted to. She scratched at the sweat that had gathered at the back of her neck.

“It must be on the train,” she said as she swatted at a fly that flew in front of her face. She watched with wide eyes as it buzzed in front of the snake who swallowed it down with a big gulp.

“You’re disgusting,” she said as she turned away. “I can’t believe I spend time with you.”

“You love me,” said the snake. “I just know it. Anyway, tell me about this town. Any diamonds in the rough?”

“Some. There was a baker who gave me an extra doughnut in my box yesterday, but he thought it was for my mother.”

The snake gave her a side-long glance. “How are the live-in parents doing?”

“Fine.”

He wasn’t stupid, he knew what she wasn’t saying.

Genevieve scratched at an itch on her nose. She wriggled her shoulders. The itch was spreading. It felt like the time she had gotten poison ivy when she was a kid at summer camp.

“Can we go get a coffee or something?” she said as she scratched at the freckles on her arms. “I can’t stand under this street light anymore. I feel like a hooker.”

The snake snorted. “You’re breaking out in hives again, aren’t you?”

“I am not.”

“Stop worrying.” He flicked his tail toward her and managed to poke her in the side. She glared at him.

“Stop that,” she said.

“I don’t think snakes drink coffee.”

“Change then,” she said and she was already walking down the street. She heard a grunt, and then there was the sound of footsteps behind her.

She looked down at her friend’s blue tennis shoes, jeans and then up to his blonde-silver hair. His brown eyes twinkled with mischief. “So, where are we going?”

The only thing open was a 24-hour diner that promised the best fried chicken this town has to offer! “That’s promising,” muttered the girl as they walked inside. “And there’s a KFC next door.”

“They are hardly the best,” said their hostess, as she grabbed their menus. She had long, silky brown hair and smooth skin. “Will you guys be having dinner? We have a separate dinner, dessert and breakfast menu. “

The man standing next to Genevieve scratched at his head. “Haven’t decided yet. Why don’t you give us all three.”

Over pancakes, sausage, and bacon they talked about the master’s plan.

“So, you want to board a train?” said Genevieve as she forked a bite of pancake in her mouth. She chewed slowly and then swallowed. “After we were told strictly by the master to leave it alone? It’s clear dark territory.”

“Well, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” said her friend, mentor, and sometimes brother.

“He’s all-seeing, he’ll find out, Gaven.”

Gaven shrugged and started eating some bacon. “You know what I like about earth-food?”

“What’s that?” she said as she stared at the ice in the bottom of her empty glass.

“The grease.” He took another bite of bacon and crunched it loudly.

“You’re disgusting,” she said, but she couldn’t completely hide her smile. He kept her sane this friend, who looked like an older brother. Gaven was tan all over, with blue eyes and brown hair. He looked like the type of guys that girls her age would probably giggle over. But she wasn’t a little girl.

She watched him as he set down his fork. “You didn’t tell me about the parents?”

“They think I’m twelve,” she said with a grimace. “They treat me like I’m twelve.”

He sighed. “If you’d just repent…”

“I’ve said my sorrys, what do you want from me?”

“This punishment won’t last forever, Gen.”

She stirred scrambled eggs around her plate. “That’s not what Harry said.”

“Harry is a wicked angel, Gen, you know that.” He gulped at his orange juice. “God, that’s good.”

“He said something about the master telling him it was true. How I was stuck like this. Forever.”

“Nothing is permanent in this world, you know that. It’s life and death and high calories.”

She stuck her tongue out at him.

“There,” he said as he saluted his empty juice glass at her. “Now you’re starting to act your age.”

An hour later, they shivered in the dark next to the train tracks. The place was lit by street lights, and the usually brown-dirt looked a strange purple in the darkness. “What are we doing here?” she hissed, as she hugged herself against the early morning chill. “We are going to get ourselves killed.”

“You can’t get killed if you are already dead, and besides, we are invincible.” Gaven bounced up and down on his feet. He glanced at his watch. “It’s passed 3am, something’s wrong.”

Genevieve gazed down the tracks, it ran through trees and behind buildings, but the only thing she saw were the hills on the other side of town. She looked across the tracks at the run down factory, stretched out in front of it was mounds of dirt, bulldozers and holes in the ground. Whatever they were building, it looked a mess.

A train horn sounded in the darkness, it was faint and growing closer.

“So we are going to jump onto it as it comes by?”

“That’s the plan,” said Gaven.

Genevieve didn’t like this plan. She didn’t like anything about the dark just then, the way morning seemed so far away, the way the smell of the trees and dirt smelled sweet just then, and heavy. “Something’s here,” she hissed and turned around. But beyond the light that lit up the construction site and part of the tracks, she saw nothing. She heard the scuff of someone kicking a stone in the darkness, the sound of a muttered curse. A man’s voice.

“Who’s there?” she called out.

They saw the glow, first. Of eyes that snapped on, like someone had turned on a light switch. Glowing faint at first, and then closer, she gasped as two orange and fiery red eyes appeared. She thought she should be scared, but for some reason, Gen thought of campfires and felt like lying down and going to sleep.

“Knock it off, Gill,” said Gaven, “We know it’s you.”

“Oh, the master’s going to kill you,” said a deep voice, gleefully.

“Gillian!” cried Genevieve. She heard laughter and grunts as Gaven punched him in the gut. The glowing eyes disappeared. Not all of them knew how to use glamour.

The train appeared on the track, rushing closer, growing bigger. Just as Genevieve was about to open her mouth to let Gaven know, there was a rush of heat, and white light and the front of the train exploded in the darkness.

 

They were trying to rustle through the broken pieces in the darkness, lit only faintly by the burning embers of the wreck. Everything smelled of soot and burnt meat.

“There weren’t humans on this train was there?” she thought with horror.

“No,” said Gillian as he flipped over a burnt piece of wood. “The trains are used for cargo.”

In the darkness, Gen could see the faint outline of his dark cloak. He was the same age as Gavin, but where Gavin was muscular and tan, Gillian was pale, black haired and gaunt. The three G’s the others sometimes called them, and other things…but Genevieve was just happy to have friends. Being dead could be a lonely thing.

Gaven came to stand by her then and she looked up at his shiny eyes. He grabbed her elbow suddenly, as a figure stepped out from the darkness in front of the simmering embers of the train wreck. She had momentarily forgot about the rest of the train, but its tail end still waiting in the darkness, white and silent, expecting.

“Oh, in-between-ers,” a voice hissed as it stepped closer. “This night just gets better and better.”

“Don’t come any closer,” said Gaven. “We are not here to fight you.”

“What are you here for then, if not to sabotage our plans?” said the voice, dark and raspy.

Gilian came up to stand on the other side of Genevieve. “We are here for answers,” he said. “There is no place for you here, demon.”

The figure laughed and Genevieve felt a chill in her heart. She could never be this evil. She felt a sudden feeling of hopelessness. Maybe she really was just a little girl after all. “I can feel your hopelessness, your distrust,” said the figure. He lowered the dark hood that he wore. Besides a chill, he stank of fire and fish. His face was all white, his eyes were completely black. He had no hair, and a thin black slash for a mouth. “Tell me, how goes your revolution?”

“Our business is none of yours,” said Genevieve as she held Gaven’s arm. “What are you doing here?”

The figure tilted his head towards the cold wind that blew through the trees and stirred the ash at his feet. A glowing piece of wood glowed orange and then caught on fire. He studied his claw-like fingernails. “I don’t waste my time talking to children. I wonder…does your master know your here?”

Genevieve remembered the first time she met the master. The thing they never tell you when you are saying your goodbyes: how quiet death is. For a long time she felt like she existed, except there are no formal introductions to the places you wake up in. In Sunday school she learned it this way: You go to Heaven if you are good; Hell is for the sinners and the unclean. But what she didn’t know, was that there were places that existed for the In-Between. Limbo wasn’t just for those who slept and never woke up.

Limbo was the place you went if you weren’t quite good enough. Limbo was for the punished who’d repented. It was for the few stranglers of the Great Fall, back when Lucifer had tried to make a claim to earth and all its inhabitants. A war they were still fighting, actually. Some from the Great Fall were trying to make right what they had done. Some were sent there because they weren’t quite done with where they had been. Some thought that it was a place to be alive again, but Genevieve wasn’t so sure. Neither Angel or Demon, the “In-between-ers” were neither living or dead. They possessed the skills and strengths of an Angel, but they weren’t all-seeing like some, and they had the limitations of a human body.

Genevieve felt like a broken record sometimes, living a life that she had a few times before. Moments never change, regrets still exist and living life like a human constantly reminded her how fragile and stupid they were sometimes. She was sick of making the same mistakes over and over again.

But the man they called Master gave them a purpose. They were the insiders, helping to fight a war that the Angels struggled with. They could blend in, they could be the eyes in every corner.

She vaguely remember Heaven, just a warm place and fighting for life. She remembers struggling to breathe, twisting her arms around in the murky river, trying to kick at the thick, car window. Between bursts of unconsciousness, she felt warmth surround her and then there was nothing. She woke up in a white room. There was no smell, no breeze, nothing. Just a ever present fog and the feeling that she had forgotten something, left something behind.

She wore a hospital gown and sat up on the bed that you see in a doctor’s office. A man approached. He wore dark rimmed glasses and had a Clark Kent type of feel, and a presence about him, a strength. His eyes were not natural either, they were a wide blue almost purple, and his ears were pointed at the tip. He wore a white lab coat. When he was closer, Genevieve could see the tops of feathered wings poking over his shoulders.

“You’re awake,” he said. “Good.”

“You’re an Angel,” she said, and was surprised to hear her own voice. It had felt like a long time.

He sat down in a desk chair that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. “Sort of.” He eyed her over a manila folder that had also appeared in his hand. “First time driver, huh?”

Genevieve blinked at him. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

He rolled back in his chair as he looked at her. “Let me put it this way for you. Heaven is not quite ready for you, you’re too good for Hell, and you were too young to die. At sixteen you are supposed to have the whole world in front of you. What if I said you could make a difference for others instead?”

That was how it started.

The demon was still looking at them. “He doesn’t know, does he?” He grinned, and Genevieve shuddered. His teeth were filed down to points, for gnawing on flesh.

“What are you going to do?” said Genevieve.

He looked the three of them over. “Oh, wouldn’t you like to know.”

 

Genevieve’s skin itched; it felt like a hundred stinging ants were crawling across her stomach. She was burning. Her forehead was sweating. “He’s going to burn us from the inside out!” she gasped. Gaven and Gillian both groaned suddenly and dropped to their knees.

“Make him stop!” cried Gillian as he fell towards the ground, gasping for breath.

“Do what?” cried Genevieve as she struggled to stay upright.

“There’s nothing to do,” gasped Gaven. “We’re already dead.”

“That you are,” said a voice that was familiar, and scary at the same time.

And there he stood next to the ugly bald-headed demon, looking resplendent in his white suit, and colored sunglasses. His face was slightly rough with a day’s worth of scruff, but other than that, the master looked smooth and handsome and powerful.

“Why are you here, Lyle? I hear your master is half-way around the world right now.”

And then the pain fell away. Genevieve fell onto all fours next to the boys.

The demon named Lyle turned toward the master slowly. He scrunched up his already ugly face into a scowl. “Samyaza.”

“Please,” said the Master. “Samuel is fine.”

“Your name doesn’t matter to me,” hissed Lyle. “Who are you to question where I am?”

“It matters when you hurt,” (he said as he glanced at the three teenagers,) “Those that are close to me.”

Lyle spat on the ground, and the dirt hissed and sizzled where his spit fell. “In-betweeners.”

“We prefer the term, “Watchers,” said Samuel.

“You think you scare me? You are no more welcome in heaven than I.”

“We have been pardoned,” he said and the ground seemed to swell under his feet. He was growing, no, he was rising. Genevieve saw the wings sprouting out from his back. He seemed to glow with a faint light. “Would you like to see?”

“Save your holiness,” gnashed Lyle between pointy teeth. He glanced at the smoldering wreck of the train. “My work is done here anyway.” He turned into the darkness and disappeared.

“Oh man,” said Gill as he slapped Gaven on the back. “That was a close one!” But he quieted as their Master, Samuel, turned towards them.

“Stay out of trouble, I said. Watch the town, I said. See what sort of exports are coming in. Are you three incapable of following instructions? Or are you just stupid!”

Genevieve flinched as she scrambled to her feet. His wings were still extended and although she couldn’t see his eyes beneath his green-blue sunglasses, she didn’t need to. She’d seen his eyes flash a silver and gold in a rage before.

“It was my fault.” She stepped forward as the two boys bowed their heads. “I told Gaven I thought there was something on the train. We came to investigate. Gill found us later.”

“I don’t care what happened,” said Samuel. “We can’t let them get the best of us, again.” He turned his head and his sunglasses flashed a teal color. “Do you even know what happened with the train? What they blew up?”

“We were working on that when you showed up,” mumbled Gaven.

“Shut up, you,” said Samuel, and then he jerked his head over to the wreck behind him and moved a smoldering piece of wood out of his path and set it down gently. “Well, let’s get this sorted out.”

Genevieve never seemed to know which side their Master was on. And it bothered her more than she cared to admit. Hot and cold, he ran. Like two different types of weather. It was exhausting.

Yes, the Watchers, or In-betweeners were pardoned, but if being forced out of Heaven to live on Earth was punishment, it certainly felt like it. They were alone. One of a kind, and yet never resting. Sometimes Genevieve felt like she ran a marathon that never ended, and she was always dying of thirst.

She watched Samuel turn over a burning log and pick up a smoldering box. She or the two boys would have hissed and been burned by the heat, but Samuel was a lot older than them. And he had his wings. She wondered if they would ever get a chance to earn wings.

“What is it?” she asked him.

Samuel cursed and threw the smoldering box into to dirt. “Food,” he hissed.

“Those fucking bastards,” said Gaven.

Samuel’s sunglasses flashed as he turned towards him. “Watch it.”

“So?” said Gillian. “What will that do? There’s plenty of food, here.”

The Master jerked his head toward her. “Tell them.”

“Well…not really,” said Genevieve.

“What do you mean?” said Gaven. “What did we just eat a few hours ago?” he laughed. “Dirt?”

“No, and the new districts are fine,” (she glanced around) “Here in old town is different.”

“What do you mean by that?” said Gaven.

“There’s a lot of poverty here. People depend on the free shipments the train brings in. Mostly stuff from the government. Goes into food pantries and the like.”

“The free shipments cut down on stealing,” said the Master. “The government finally found out that people were starving and stealing for food and they did something about it.”

“So without the food to keep people off the streets?” said Gaven, but he didn’t expect an answer.

“Well, shit,” said Gillian. “Mama ain’t gonna like this.”

“Shut up,” said Gaven as he smacked him in the head. “There will be riots over this stuff, idiot. We got our work cut out for us.”

“My foster parents are even depending on it,” said Genevieve.

“We’ll see that they are taken care of,” said Samuel.

“What about me?” said Genevieve and then she instantly regretted it as he turned towards her.

“What about you?”

She gestured to herself. “When will I be taken care of? My punishment? When will that be done?”

“When you’ve realized the seriousness of your actions.”

When I’ve realized the seriousness of my actions?” She was seeing her parents gray heads in the cemetery, her little sister’s bowed head. She took a deep breath. “I shouldn’t be punished for mourning for what I had. For missing those I loved.”

“No one is allowed to make contact,” said Samuel. “And you tried. Your little sister saw you.”

Genevieve bowed her head, her hands clasped in front of her. She was aware of the other boys growing quiet. “Forgive me, Master. I will not let you down. I will not forsake the mission. I am your servant, and a servant, always,” she breathed, although her heart felt broken. “I will protect, I will watch, and I will listen. I will be the eyes that are not seen, the ears that are not forgotten. I will be the sight for others who have none.”

The wind blew between the trees and one of the boys cleared their throat. She glanced up into the Master’s face and looked him in the eyes. Something that she had never done before. “Please,” she added. “Give me one more chance.”

And then something happened that she did not expect. Their Master sighed deeply and he pushed his green-blue shades on the top of his head. His gray eyes looked old and tired.

“So may it be.” He waved his hand and she felt a ripple of heat, and a tickling in her skin. She looked down at her long legs and red painted toes.

She sighed and looked up at Gaven and Gillian and smiled.

She was sixteen again and happy, and ready to save the world.

 

Part 4: Endtown (a short story)

There’s no excuse. I should have got this out to you guys on Thursday, and I am sorry. I won’t let writer’s fear get the best of me, or quit when the going gets rough. Whew. I am a strong, confident writer who can succeed and that’s that!

Anyway, here’s Part 4 of what was supposed to be Thursday night’s post. If you missed the previous post, you can view them on last week’s post Here. You will also find links to Part 1 and 2 there as well.

Endtown

0407131926aSo far, the story focuses on Genevieve, a young teen who died way too early. Both her and her friends find themselves in Limbo, or “the in-between,” in neither Heaven or Hell. They are offered the chance to make a difference in the war that the Angels are still fighting against the demons, who are trying to take over the earth.

Part 4:

The demon was still looking at them. “Your Master doesn’t know, does he?” He grinned, and Genevieve shuddered. His teeth were filed down to points, for gnawing on flesh.

“What are you going to do?” said Genevieve.

He looked the three of them over. “Oh, wouldn’t you like to know.”

 

          THE demon just stood there looking at them. Gen squirmed as she felt her stomach drop to her feet. Her skin itched; it felt like a hundred stinging ants were crawling across her stomach. She was burning. Her forehead was sweating. “He’s going to burn us from the inside out!” she gasped. Gaven and Gillian both groaned suddenly and dropped to their knees.

“Make him stop!” cried Gillian as he moved onto all fours.

“Do what?” cried Genevieve as she struggled to stay upright.

“There’s nothing to do,” gasped Gaven. “We’re already dead.”

“That you are,” said a voice that was familiar, and scary at the same time.

And there he stood next to the ugly bald-headed demon, looking resplendent in his white suit, and colored sunglasses. His face was slightly rough with a day’s worth of scruff, but other than that, the master looked smooth and handsome and powerful.

“Why are you here, Lyle? I hear your master is half-way around the world right now,” he said.

And then the pain fell away. Genevieve fell onto all fours next to the boys.

The demon named Lyle turned toward the master slowly. He scrunched up his already ugly face into a scowl. “Samyaza.”

“Please,” said the Master. “Samuel is fine.”

“Your name doesn’t matter to me,” hissed Lyle. “Who are you to question where I am?”

“It matters when you hurt,” (he said as he glanced at the three teenagers,) “Those that are close to me.”

Lyle spat on the ground, and the dirt hissed and sizzled where his spit fell. “In-betweeners.”

“We prefer the term, “Watchers,” said Samuel.

“You think you scare me? You are no more welcome in heaven than I.”

“We have been pardoned,” he said and the ground seemed to swell under his feet. He was growing, no, he was rising. Genevieve saw the wings sprouting out from his back. He seemed to glow with a faint light. “Would you like to see?” he said.

“Save your holiness,” gnashed Lyle between pointy teeth. He glanced at the smoldering wreck of the train. “My work is done here anyway.” He turned into the darkness and disappeared.

“Oh man,” said Gill as he slapped Gaven on the back as they both got to their feet. “That was a close one!” But he quieted as their Master, Samuel, turned towards them.

“Stay out of trouble, I said. Watch the town, I said. See what sort of exports are coming in. Are you three incapable of following instructions? Or are you just stupid?!”

Genevieve flinched as she scrambled to her feet. His wings were still extended and although she couldn’t see his eyes beneath his green-blue sunglasses, she didn’t need to. She’d seen his eyes flash a silver and gold in a rage before.

“It was my fault.” She stepped forward as the two boys bowed their heads. “I told Gaven I thought there was something on the train. We came to investigate. Gill found us later.”

“I don’t care what happened,” said the Master. “We can’t let them get the best of us, again.” He turned his head and his sunglasses flashed a teal color. “Do you even know what happened with the train? What they blew up?”

“We were working on that when you showed up,” mumbled Gaven.

“Shut up,” said the Master, and then he jerked his head over to the wreck behind him and moved a smoldering piece of wood out of his path and set it down gently. “Well, let’s get this sorted out.”

Genevieve never seemed to know which side their Master was on. And it bothered her more than she cared to admit. Hot and cold, he ran. Like two different types of weather. It was exhausting.

Yes, the Watchers, or In-Betweeners were pardoned, but if being forced out of Heaven to live on Earth was punishment, it certainly felt like it. They were alone. One of a kind, and yet never resting. Sometimes Genevieve felt like she ran a marathon that never ended, and she was always dying of thirst.

She watched the Master turn over a burning log and pick up a smoldering box. She or the two boys would have been burned by the heat, but Samuel was a lot older than them. And he had his wings. She wondered if they would ever get a chance to earn wings.

“What is it?” she asked him.

The Master cursed and threw the smoldering box into to dirt. “Food,” he hissed.

“Those fucking bastards,” said Gaven.

Samuel’s sunglasses flashed as he turned towards him. “Watch it.”

“So?” said Gillian. “What will that do? There’s plenty of food, here.”

The Master jerked his head toward her. “Tell them.”

“Well…not really,” said Genevieve.

“What do you mean?” said Gaven. “What did we just eat a few hours ago?” he laughed. “Dirt?”

“No, and the new districts are fine,” (she glanced around) “Here in old town is different.”

“What do you mean by that?” said Gaven.

“There’s a lot of poverty here. People depend on the free shipments the train brings in. Mostly stuff from the government. Goes into food pantries and the like.”

“The free shipments cut down on stealing,” said the Master. “The government finally found out that people were starving and stealing for food and they did something about it.”

“So without the food to keep people off the streets?” said Gaven, but he didn’t expect an answer.

“Well, shit,” said Gillian. “Mama ain’t gonna like this.”

“Shut up,” said Gaven as he smacked him in the head. “There will be riots over this stuff, idiot. We got our work cut out for us.”

“My foster parents are even depending on it,” said Genevieve.

“We’ll see that they are taken care of,” said The master.

“Great,” said Genevieve as she looked down at herself. “Is that all we’re taking care of? When can I be myself again?”

She thought she saw the Master grimace before he turned away. It was his fault that she found herself in the form of a twelve-year-old. It was her punishment, he had said. She shouldn’t have been sticking her nose where it didn’t belong.

But all Genevieve had been trying to do was make a difference in this world. Wasn’t that what they were here for anyway?

 

To Be Continued…Tune in next Thursday for more!

Happy Writing!

Short Story: “Panda”

I wrote this a few years ago as a writing prompt in one of my creative writing classes. I am having a great time digging these random stories out and sharing, otherwise they just lay there forgotten and some of them are amusing (at least to me!)

I think the prompt was something along the lines of:  A panda reads Kafka and visits New York City.


When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Pandas. I had a panda bedspread, and wallpaper and curtains. Also TONS of stuffed animals.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Pandas. I had a panda bedspread, and wallpaper and curtains. Also TONS of stuffed animals.

“Panda”

The panda was having a hard time of it. The world was too big and lonely and it was hard for anyone, he thought, much less a panda, an endangered species, to find a companion in this world.

On a hope, he went to New York City. He read Kafka on the airplane as the old lady next to him peered at him over her spectacles and slapped irritably at some of the white fur which kept falling on her scarf.

The ten year old on his other side fell fast asleep and hugged him close and breathed him in, like he was a vast pillow pet.

He ordered two mojitos. He asked politely to the stewardess if she wouldn’t mind to please, please turn that Tropical Thunder down, it was giving him a headache. She had stared at him.

At the airport, the panda had a hard time finding his luggage. The baggage claim people were rude to him and people kept staring. Sure, he was a large panda. All pandas were and if he was a panda that happened to like Khaki shorts and large brightly colored tropical t-shirts, why so let it be. By the end of the day, he needed a drink.

He went to a club. One of those fancy kinds in Manhattan where all the cool, under-aged kids go. He ordered a mojito that cost him close to twenty dollars. He tried to find a corner to himself. Perhaps the club hadn’t been a good idea.

Outside in the fresh air, the Panda decided to regroup. He thought about all the things he wanted to do in NYC. It was perfect night for a walk.

Two blocks away from the club, he saw a woman several feet ahead of him stumbling up the sidewalk, swaying back and forth in a dance to the music in her head.

She was tall and wore a dark green dress, silver pumps and silver eyeglasses and red lipstick. Her hair was a vivid red.

“Are you hurt? Can I help you?” asked the Panda once he had hobbled up to her.

The woman swayed where she stood. “Who the hell are you?”

He put out an arm. She grabbed at his fur, nearly tipped over and tugged some tuffs of hair out. He gritted his teeth as he folded his arm around her waist and she leaned against him as they stumbled along.

“You’re quite hairy,” she observed. “Don’t you shave?”

“No,” said the panda.

“Black and white too…how old are you?” said the woman.

“Not too old.”

“Can you help me get home? I think my ride’s missing.”

“Yes. I could do that.”

“You’re such a nice one. So soft, and caring,” said the woman, as they swayed along.

“Yes, I am,” said the panda.

“And you listen…oh, why can’t all men be like you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Such big arms you have too!” She laughed. “I like such large shoulders on my man.”

The panda felt his face warm. “I work out.”

“I can tell…oh such, lovely, lovely fur you have!”

Fur? Yes, yes…he did have fur…

The woman stopped dead on the sidewalk as she looked up at him. “Wait a minute…”

“Yes?” said the Panda, daring not to move.

“You’re so very tall too!”

He sighed as she clutched his large arm in both of hers as they wobbled down the street.