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  • Alan Allinger

A Monday in the Time of Covid

This will be the first blog post in a new time for me; a time when the whole world is taking blow after blow from the pandemic we were warned of but obviously did not adequately prepare for. By the time this has run its course we will all have lost loved ones, lost revenue, and lost things of great personal and/or intrinsic value. We will wake up, day after day, in a world that is different than the one we left when we closed our eyes the night before. None of us will emerge from this time unscathed, and I wish everyone who reads this all the best in making the adjustments and surviving what lies before us. This weekend we not only celebrated Mother's Day in our household, this was also our daughter Ema's graduation day. She has finished her degree at the University of Oklahoma and is preparing to join the workforce. It is a very different world she is emerging into, but Ema is resilient and brilliant and will adapt and overcome as needs require. I hope all of us can do as well at navigating the changing environment as she has. Some words about Captured Within Waking Moments:

Harlan Ellison was right, when you write stories people really do ask you about where you get your ideas. I assume everyone's process is different. I get a lot of inspiration from visuals both real and imagined, things I see or wish I was seeing when out walking or driving. All the stories that I write draw to some degree upon personal experiences, of course, because you have to write what you know if you want it to ring true. Should you have any questions about particular stories please feel free to contact me via this site, I always enjoy feedback about what I've written and am open to dialogue on it. Mostly I like to let the work speak for itself, but I find that being asked questions about stories sometimes opens my eyes to completely different ways of seeing a tale... and that's both humbling and exciting.

I wish to express my thanks to Charles de Lint for his guidance and encouragement during this process. I have read his books for many years, and always loved his work. I thought, if I could get him to read one of my stories that would really be something. As it turns out, he is extraordinarily kind and generous to new writers, and in addition to reading and commenting on the work itself he gave me a great deal of insight into the publishing process.Thank you, Charles, for all you did to help me move forward.

As far as new work goes, I have several short stories extant that were not appropriate for the last collection as they were from different genres and understandably my editor Sabrina wanted this collection to hang together as an entity. Working with her as my editor/publisher is the sort of experience you wish everyone could have when creating; in addition to the technical side of writing, she is very good at telling me what works and what doesn't in a story and helping me find a path through the rougher patches. I'm hoping to publish something else in the fall, but that's dependent upon several variables. Some of my stories are quite realistic, so it may be a different group of people who find them of interest, but I am hopeful that a good story is a good story to all readers. I will update this blog from time to time and if I have news of new pieces I'll post that here as well as on my FB page.

I have a new short story that I thought I would post here as Memorial Day nears and we all harken back to other difficult times and conflicts in the world. I hope you enjoy it. Whether you do or not, please take a moment to comment on it if you have the time. Stay safe out there-

Alan


Possibilities Still Abound

Quick sat quietly on the front porch swing of the brick house. It was not her own, but she felt welcome because the woven matt which lay before the orange door said that she was. Quick took the word literally. She could not go into the house without an express invitation; obviously, crossing a threshold was a different matter than the very inviting porch. She sat poised and upright, rocking gently enough so that the chains that held it suspended made only a very slight sound.

She was enjoying the dying light of the setting sun, watching as it turned the walls of the house pink and the grass almost black. She thought about how the day always ends, and the fact that in this world the day always comes again a short time later. She sighed dramatically as she threw back her long hair, silently listing the cacophony of things running through her mind. Quick now wished for conversation. And company.

Quick could usually influence things around her to some extent, and she reached out with all of her senses to see what might be stirring nearby. She abruptly froze, listening to the steady solid beating of her own heart while the sun began to disappear, and she heard the crunch of their feet on the fallen leaves and the treble, piping sound of a young voice before she saw them.

Quick watched as an older man and a little boy turned the corner onto Cedar Hill and made a slow journey along her block, passing tall, ancient juniper trees that gave the street its name. She recognized the man as the owner of the house whose porch she sat upon. Quick had freckles, very pale skin and brilliant red hair, and she was dressed in bright green colors. Her features were strong, with a long nose and very pointed chin.

“What’s this?” asked the boy, who was no more than five. He bent to the ground outside the low brick wall that separated the front yard from the grass that bordered the street. He lifted something that Quick could not see from her vantage on the swing; he was short enough so that his hand was below the wall. The man looked at the object for a moment, and then he spoke.

“Looks like a bent stick to me now,” he said, “but you never know, it might be something more in disguise. Tell me what you see.” The little boy smiled seriously and responded so quickly that Quick could tell the two of them had done this many times before.

“I think it’s a magical fairy sword,” he said, and he now held it up high enough so that Quick could see it too. “See how it’s curved, and this part here is like a hilt.” The boy swung the stick experimentally, feeling the balance of it. “How can fairies have swords, though, when fairies can’t use metal?” His grandfather shook his head.

“That’s not wholly true, Tibs. Fairies cannot abide the touch of iron, but they can use other metals without concern.” The boy’s eyes slid up the bent branch that might be a sword to meet the old man’s, and he frowned. Quick saw the old man react slightly to the frown with a tiny smile as he continued. “Ah- but maybe it’s disguised through a glamor, to make it look like a wooden sword. So no one steals it.” The boy’s frown vanished, and he nodded in understanding.

“Disguising things is important,” he said.

“Keeps valuable things from being taken,” the old man agreed solemnly. The boy picked up something else.

“Then this rock is probably a disguised piece of treasure,” he declared. The boy lifted a piece of stone up so the man could see it, and the vanishing sun made small veins of mica in it sparkle. Quick smiled. The old man suddenly saw her sitting on the porch and after a second or two he nodded to her, seeing that she understood. He knows me, she thought with delight, and she smiled to show pointed teeth. How fine.

“Oh, it certainly is,” said the old man. “See how those little parts shine? Full sunlight can make magic disguises falter, sometimes they even fail altogether.” The boy nodded, seemingly content with the information. Quick thought it must have fit his idea of how the world worked. She found approved of the old man’s explanations and the way in which he was talking to the boy. The boy tapped the rock with his fingertip, looking at the mica. He put the rock on the curb and stomped it with one heel. When nothing happened he leaned over, picked up the rock, and banged it hard enough to make a snapping sound on the curb, once, twice, and a third time. His face was quizzical rather than frustrated.

“How do we get the treasure out of the rock, Grampa? I can see it, I just can’t open it up to get it out.” The old man smiled slightly, and held out his hand.

“Let me see what we might do,” he said. He took the proffered piece of stone, put his thumbs against a couple of protruding ridges, and his hands strained as he tested their mettle. He looked down at the boy for a moment, and made a gesture for them to sit together on the curb.

“I think the problem,” he began, “is that this contains a very special and rare kind of treasure.” Quick couldn’t see them clearly over the low brick wall, so she got up silently and moved towards the street, to keep them in view. She had always found that if she could see someone’s face it was much easier to hear and understand what they were saying. Quick was as fast as her name implied, and it only took her two long bounds to cross the yard.

Leaping lightly to squat atop the little wall, she was now close enough to see the boy nodding slowly at the old man’s last words. The boy caught a glimpse of her too, from the corner of his eye, and turned his head a little to look at her. The old man watched the boy, and he turned his head to follow the boy’s eyes. When he saw Quick, he smiled at her.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m Mr. Milton, and this is my grandson, Tibs.” The boy smiled at her too, and held up the stone so that she could see the mica glinting on its edge.

“We’re about to open this rock to get the treasure out,” Tibs declared. “Wanna watch?” Quick considered that for a moment.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “Do you know what’s inside there?” Mr. Milton looked at her for a moment, startled by something he could see in her face. He smiled at her, and it was like a little beam of sunlight peaking out from behind a cloud. Something flickered within the depths of his eyes, a spark that had not been there for a long time.

“I do know,” he said in a voice that was just as quiet. “Although maybe… I forgot, until you said something.” Tibs looked at both of their faces, his gaze lingering on Quick’s unusual features. His own held a frank curiosity.

“All right, then,” Mr. Milton said. He put his thumbs in just the right place and flexed the stone gradually, and after a few seconds of increasingly steady pressure it broke suddenly along the plane of mica into a pair of slabs. He held one in each hand, and there were some shiny crystalline shards attached to the red and grey sedimentary shale.

“May I?” Quick asked gently. Without speaking Mr. Milton put one of the pieces into her hand, and she ran her pale fingers over the thin flakes of mica. As she did, a hundred small slabs flaked off into her hand, making it look for all the world like her palm was covered in brilliant sparkling ice. She gravely regarded the boy, who slowly held out his own hand in awe. She gently brushed the bright, fine pieces of shiny stone into his waiting palm.

“These are for you,” she said gravely. He looked at them open-mouthed, then back at her. Mr. Milton stared at Quick, and she could see quiet and subtle longing on his face that spoke of long-ago memories. Memories from a time when he felt that anything was still possible, including the seeing of what this little boy now held in his hand.

The fragments in the boy’s palm now glowed, and as he turned his hand this way and that in the last rays of the sun it looked as if he held a myriad of shining opals, each just a little larger than a grain of rice. They caught and held all that was left of the light, shimmering brilliantly.

“Keep those safe, in a silk cloth,” she told him. She shook her head slightly, because she really could not understand why she had just done what she had. “They will last for ninety-nine years, or you may give them away; pass them on to another before then if that is your wish. Then they will last another ninety-nine years for the next person that holds them.” The old man and the little boy stared at the glowing colors in his hand, nearly spellbound.

“But what are they?” the boy asked in a quiet voice that was far more mature than someone his age should have been able to muster. It made her feel better; perhaps she had done the right thing.

“Possibilities,” she said. “And they are mostly as beautiful as they look, although not always. Try to use them well.” She watched the two faces as the shimmering glow reflected off of them, and then Mr. Milton met her eyes fully and spoke.

“Hello, Quick,” he said. “I am sorry I didn’t recognize you before.” She shrugged, and gave him a small smile, pleased that he remembered her name at last. He looked at her with sadness and a worn, tired-out sort of hunger. “Please, Quick,” he asked plaintively, his heart aching, “will you make me young again?”

“No, my dear,” she said with a gentle finality. Mr. Milton nodded, not surprised, and the final sunbeams refracting from Tibs’s glowing palm full of possibilities shone brilliantly upon the wall, exactly in that empty spot where she had been an instant before. Just as the glow faded, the boy spoke. His eyes still shone, reflecting the many colors of the gems that lay upon his cupped palm.

“She won’t make you young again,” Tibs said with a quiet confidence. “But if you take one of these from my hand, Grampa, and hold it tight, maybe… maybe we’ll find a possibility.”


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