Baby Groot

Last autumn, I stole an acorn.

Or rescued one, depending on your point of view. Adopted, salvaged, liberated. Pick one.

Or don’t. Either way.

The point is, I was walking home from work and found an acorn on the ground. Since this was in the city and any acorns that manage to sprout are mercilessly mowed down by lawnmowers or simply torn up to save the landscaping, I rescued him.

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Let’s go with rescued. I like that word the best. Okay?

Cool.

When I got home, I wrapped him (yes, definitely a him) in a damp paper towel, zipped him into a plastic baggie, and stuck him in the back of my fridge.

Where he stayed.

For six months.

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Every once in a while I zipped the bag open to check on him. He turned brown almost right away. And black. Definitely had mold in there, too. I changed the paper towel once and let him do his own thing. He’s an acorn. He knows what he’s doing.

Then, after months and months and months (okay, it wasn’t that long), he finally cracked.

Literally.

Once the crack was large enough to see a root growing through it (and it was warm enough to sustain life in my little house), I planted him.

Considering how long it took for that tiny little root to appear, I figured it would be at least a week or two before I saw any action. Oak trees are slow movers, after all. Right?

Wrong.

Three days later, Baby Groot made his appearance. (Look how cute he is!)

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And, considering it took years (not really) for him to incubate, he seemed to be in a serious hurry to grow up.

Why can’t they just stay babies?

Now he’s a toddler (I think) and spends his days mooching on my kitchen table and catching some rays when it isn’t too windy outside. Or raining. Or hailing.

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Don’t judge. He’s still a baby. I’m allowed to be overprotective.

Who knows. Maybe one day he really will grow up, and I’ll plant him outside and let him grow all on his own.

But not for a while. A few years. No need to hurry things.

Lullabies

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He falls asleep when the sun sets, and I cradle him in my arms as I watch the last of the light fade from between the buildings, the deserted streets. The sky grows black, cold against the color of a rising moon. I leave the window at last and lay him down in the sports bag I salvaged for him, tucking the thin blanket against the cool night. The office building we’re hiding in hasn’t had heating in more years than I can think to count, but the ceiling of this room is intact, and the walls. Even the window isn’t broken, although the desk was flipped against one of the walls. The claw marks in the wood are old, and there is no blood. So tonight, we’ll sleep here. Maybe tomorrow too. Not longer.

The desk is oak. This must have been a CEO’s office once, or some Vice President. I pushed it against the door after we came, and who knows, it might hold out.

If they don’t come through the window.

I leave him sleeping and go stand by the window again, leaning against the glass. Cities are dangerous now. Too many people are filtering back in, searching for places to live among the rubble. Railway tunnels, old buildings, the sewers. They gather, and the Hunters find them.

But we’re not staying long. I came here for supplies, for baby clothes and whatever else I can find. When I’m finished foraging, we’ll leave again. Tonight and tomorrow. That’s all.

I press my forehead against the glass and close my eyes. I can hear them in the silence, even through the walls. The Hunters. Their cries echo among the buildings, shrill as the scream of a seabird on the coastline. They came for the cities first, in the beginning. People said heat drew them. All those bodies in one place. Most don’t travel in groups of more than two or three because of it. Even families split apart.

Most families, anyway.

I glance over my shoulder, watching the sports bag sway gently. I hung it on the legs of the desk, just like a real cradle, and he’s been quiet as a mouse in it. Not that he ever is very loud. He doesn’t cry very often, not loud, and especially not at night. I worried about that, in the beginning. I’ve never had any family, only him. Two is more dangerous than one, but one mother and a baby can’t give off that much heat.

At least, that’s what I tell myself when the Hunters are screaming.

I leave the window and go sit by his cradle. My sleeping bag and the backpack I carry with me everywhere are tucked up beneath the desk, next to where I hung his cradle, and I curl up and rock him gently, waiting for the night to end. When he shifts and begins to fuss, I sing for him. All those stupid lullabies I remember from listening to the radio. My voice cracks, and I don’t remember most of the words, but it’s better than listening to the Hunters shriek. After he falls asleep again I keep singing, more for the sound of my own voice and the familiarity of the words than anything else.

Somehow, the night isn’t so dark with a lullaby.

Schindler’s List

Some books are difficult to read.

I won’t deny that. There are some stories in history that people would rather forget. Evil is a definite part of our past, and I think it is easier for us to swallow in fantasy, TV, and fiction than it is in stories that ring true. We’d rather have magnificently evil villains safely trapped between the pages of a book than remember that there were—and are—men and women that were equally as vicious and terrifying. Men who really were set on destroying the world.

And yet, if we cover those stories up, if we forget them, then we will also forget the men and women who stepped up to oppose that evil. The true-to-life heroes who risked their homes, their lives, and their families, to stand in the gap and protect those who couldn’t protect themselves.

Those stories—those men—should never be forgotten.

Schindler’s List is one of those stories. A true-to-life account of a man living in the midst of Hitler’s reign of terror, the story of Oscar Schindler, an unremarkable—and somewhat unscrupulous—businessman who found himself trapped within the horrors of Nazi Germany. His industrial factories saved him from military service and made him a valuable member of the Nazi party—a man who could have survived in perfect comfort and profited from the hatred around him.

And yet, amid a sea of people choosing the easier road, Oscar Schindler saw worth in the men Der Füher had deemed worthless. He began to collect them in his factories, Jewish men and women who he insisted were vital to keeping his machines in order, his production moving.

Men and women who knew next to nothing about the work he swore could not be done without them.

They survived on his ingenuity. As the war progressed and hatred ran deeper, it became more and more difficult to convince the Nazi regime that his Jewish employees were vital to the war effort. Bribery triumphed where reason couldn’t, and by the end of the war, Schindler’s entire fortune had withered to almost nothing. In the last few months, his ‘factories’ ceased even pretending to work, instead hunkering down in an effort to survive a nightmare that was quickly coming to an end.

1,200 Jewish men and women were saved from concentration camps by Oscar Schindler, and his story lives on, not as the story of a virtuous hero, but as the tale of an unremarkable man who, when faced with the worst that humanity could produce, chose instead to demonstrate it at its best.

Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

Oyster Diving

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The sky is dark when we take the trails to the caves. The trees hang over the path, stirring restlessly in the cold wind, and I can hear the ghosts whispering among their leaves. I don’t like to leave so early, not when the sun is still hidden behind the mountains, but we have a long walk to get where we’re going, and every minute of daylight counts.

We can’t afford to waste the sun.

Jamal takes the lead. He’s walked this path so many times, I think he could follow it with his eyes shut. The darkness doesn’t bother him, and he only laughs at me when I tell him that I can hear the dead singing about the graves we left them in. The dead, he tells me, are very happy now. They are buried deep, and they don’t live to starve and beg and sell their riches for pennies. The dead are happier than we are.

I don’t believe him. We sell our wares for pennies, and I have gone to bed hungry many nights, but I can stand on the cliffs and smell the sea air and hear the gulls crying on the wind. I see the stars when I drift off to sleep, and when I dive among the caverns and collect the oysters we sell, I can taste the salt of the waves on my lips.

I am hungry, yes. But I am alive. I don’t envy the dead, even those who have died well and are buried deep.

The horizon has turned pink above the trees when we reach the chasm, and the trees sing quietly of dawn and waking, of sunshine and scattered rain. The voices of the dead are silenced, and I can remember why I always beg to come with Jamal when he hunts.

He ties the rope he is carrying to the trunk of a sturdy tree and tosses the rest into the cavern. The sun peeks over the tops of the trees, and I slip over the edge of the rocks and down into the darkness below. I have trusted my life to this rope many times, always praying to whatever gods come first to my mind that it will not choose to break this time. Jamal laughs at me for this too. He says the gods don’t care for oyster divers, and besides, a fall even from the height would not kill me.

I don’t believe him. I fell once, when I was too young to hold on, and I nearly drowned then, even though I had only twenty feet left to drop.

But I don’t fall this time, and the rope does not break. The water is cool here, and the waves are gentle and seem to welcome me back. As the light grows, the water takes on a translucent glow, green light dancing on the rock walls and soaring, vaulted ceiling. I tread water and watch Jamal come down to join me. He carries our knives, and the string bags we collect the oysters into. The single beach on the far end of the cavern is littered with the shells of previous weeks. Our ashes are there too, where we’ve lit fires to cook our spoils. The oysters themselves are not what we come all this way for, although we bring plenty home for the families to eat. The treasures they carry inside them, black and silver and opal, are what we come for, and the money we get for selling them in the open market keeps our family from starving to death.

Jamal has never liked our trade. He says that one day, he will find a pearl so large and so perfect that it will sell for much more than pennies. Then he will take a boat and get off our island and never come back.

When he talks like that, I shut my mouth tight and dive again, blocking out the sound of his voice. I will never leave our island, and I like the trade I’ve chosen. I like swimming in the lagoon with the rocks over my head and the oyster beds beneath me, and I like bartering in the market for the treasures I’ve found. I could find a thousand perfect pearls, and I would still get up before the sun is awake and listen to the ghosts whispering in the trees as I make the trek to the caves.

Crooked House

I do not have as much time to read as I used to.

Does anyone else have this problem? Life gets busy, work piles up, deadlines loom . . . and things slip through the cracks. Bills have to be paid, the car needs an oil change, and if you don’t go to work in the morning, you’re going to get fired. Taking a day off to read a new book is not as easy as it once was.

And so, things slip through the cracks. Things like reading in a hammock on a lazy summer morning. After all, in our crazy, hectic lifestyles, who actually has time for things like that?

That is why, lately, I have become such a fan of Audible.

As much as I resent not having a real, honest-to-goodness book in my hands, Audible has freed me up to get to many books I wouldn’t have time for otherwise. Suddenly, I don’t need a morning off and a hammock. I can listen to books while I’m washing dishes, while I drive, while I’m cooking freezer meals or feeding my cat. The most mundane tasks are suddenly interesting, and I can actually accomplish something while I am lost in a book.

Revolutionary.

One of the books that I have found myself listening to recently is Crooked House by Agatha Christie. I have recently acquired a taste for Ms. Christie’s novels, beginning with, you may remember, And Then There Were None. The suspense and intrigue woven into her books—coupled with her dazzling characters—have captivated me from the first, and Crooked House was no exception. In this case, the cast of characters was comprised almost exclusively of a single family—a very strange, very twisted family. The lead character, a returning serviceman named Charles Hayward, returns to England in search of his fiancé, and finds himself in the middle of a family drama that he was in no way prepared for.

Sophia, his lady love, lives in a crooked house with her large—and very strange—extended family. At the center of the drama is Aristide Leonides, a wealthy, slightly crooked businessman who has built himself an empire on less than legitimate deals. When Charles arrives in London and contacts Sophia, he finds the household in turmoil, and Aristide dead.

Worse, the old man has been murdered, and Sophia quickly delivers an ultimatum. Unless the murderer is found and the case closed, she cannot possibly agree to marry anyone.

So begins Charles’ own investigation. Helped along by the chief of police—his own father—he plunges into a miasma of intrigue, secrets, and family grudges that go so deep it seems impossible to root out the truth.

Agatha Christie is truly the Queen of Crime. This story kept me guessing until just the last moment. I made theories—and changed them—a hundred different times, and the ending was one of the most satisfying and surprising of any of her novels. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good solid mystery.

What are murderers like? Some of them have been thoroughly nice chaps.

Sand Raiders

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They come when the moon is dark and the desert is silent. Sand Raiders from the south. They come to kill, to steal our sheep and our cattle, our women and children. They burn our tents and murder our men, and what can we do? Nothing. We are not fighters, my father says. We can hide deeper in the desert, conceal ourselves among the sand hills and hope they don’t find us, but we cannot fight back. We are too few, too weak, and they would kill us all.

So they come. In the dark, we hear the screams, and we run. Some try to stop and gather belongings, and they are killed where they stand. I stop for my brother, to swing him into my arms and clutch him to my chest. He cries, and his weight slows me down, but I will not leave him. Better to die together, or even to wander in the bare desert until the sun finds us and the thirst takes our lives than to be slaves to the Sand Raiders. They are merciless, children of the devil, and the life we would have beneath their rods would be worse than a swift death.

The dunes are black, the sky filled with stars that watch our flight. I stagger in the sand, scrambling up the west side of a dune and skidding down the other. The cries fade behind me as I run, some of them cut off swiftly, others wailing into the night until the sky trembles. I don’t look back. There is no point. When the sun is high, and I return, I will find those who ran swiftest.

The others, those taken and those dead, we will mourn over and leave behind. Our next camp will be further into the desert, beneath the rocks or hidden in dens and covered with sand. Eventually, there will be so few of us left that the Sand Raiders will forget us and seek richer prey. Until then, we’ll wait like cowards and hide beneath the rocks, hoping that we aren’t the next to die.

How stupid.

I slip in the sand and fall to my knees, my breath sobbing in my throat and my heart thundering like horse’s hooves in my ears. They are not following, so perhaps I wasn’t seen when I ran. My brother has finished crying, and only the silence of the desert remains around us. I close my eyes, scrubbing tears and sand from my face, and my soul hardens within my chest. Next time, next time they come, I won’t run. Next time I will fight, even if I stand alone.

I am tired of running.

Supporting Young Authors

This week’s story does not belong to me.

That’s right. I am unashamedly posting another author’s work on my blog. Not sharing a post, not passing on a link, but posting her story on my blog.

Let me explain.

As artists, creators, and authors, we all began somewhere. We began with handwritten stories that we hid beneath the bed, dreams of books and characters that were too big and too complicated for our limited abilities, and embarrassment whenever anyone saw our work.

We all needed a place to start, and we all needed a little boost to get going.

So today, we are giving Elli a boost.

Elli is twelve. She is my little sister, a brilliant, shining example of a young woman who is learning to stretch her wings and discover just who she would like to be. This story belongs to her. I gave her advice and encouragement and corrected her grammar where necessary. But the writing and the story belong solely to her. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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I pull my small cart full of fish to the market. This is the first time I’ve sold them alone. I set my stand up once I get there. I lay my blanket down, then place my bucket of fish on it. When I open the lid of the bucket my lungs fill with the smell of fish. When I was little I had to plug my nose or I would feel sick, but I don’t mind now.

People are starting to arrive. I recognize some of their faces from last time. One of the faces I recognize is a cat, a skinny tabby with one bald leg, but he disappears around a corner. The stand beside me is selling chickens and ducks. They are very loud. The market is always loud.

I see the cat again. He’s closer now, but he dodges under a cart, and I lose sight of him. It’s getting really hot. I can hear cows and goats being sold for sacrifices. I see the cat again. He’s three or four feet away from me, he’s eyeing my fish. In the blink of an eye, he snatches a fish and disappears into the crowd. I would have chased him, but there were too many thieves in the market. Last time he stole from me, I lost all my fish because I chased him.

So I let him go. This time.

As the sun gets higher, the heat burns my skin. The air smells deeply of spices. The bells start to chime for prayer time, and people are starting to leave. I pack up my fish and go to prayer.

The cat is creeping back. He’s peeking out of the stand beside me. 

I jump and screech at him, and he runs away. I chuckle as he disappears around a corner.

The Witches

A few months ago, my little sister came to me and insisted that I read The Witches.

It was, she informed me, the creepiest book she had ever read in her entire life, and I need to read it as soon as humanly possible.

Given that she is twelve, a great reader, and a remarkably discerning judge of books, I immediately found my own copy of The Witches and began.

And she was right.

It was incredibly creepy.

Roald Dahl continues to fascinate me with his interesting take on children’s books. I appreciate his determined unwillingness to talk down to children, his fascinating and unpredictable stories, and the way his writing and his characters pull me straight off the page and into the world he is describing, often before I myself know what is happening. Matilda, another great favorite of mine (and, incidentally, my sister’s) introduced me to his bewitching style and otherworldly books, and I have found myself on the lookout for more of his work to add to my shelves.

The Witches quickly found its place beside Matilda on my bookshelf. This charming and deliciously terrifying story of a young boy, his grandmother, and the tales she tells him of the witches that are such a threat to small children was quickly a new favorite of mine. A real witch, you know, looks just like any other ordinary lady when you see her on the street or in the shops. She will smile at you and bob her head politely, or perhaps pause a minute to comment on the weather and ask about your mother.

But real witches are, of course, incredibly dangerous. Because real witches, not the kind you find in storybooks or in the movies, but real, honest to goodness witches . . . hate children.

And so, with this clearly stated, the story of a young boy and his grandmother begins. A boy who dislikes bathing, knows ever so many stories about witches and just how to recognize them, and has just a smidgen too much curiosity for his own good. That curiosity and downright nosiness brings him face to face with the Grand High Witch herself, and although through a little cleverness of his own and a good deal of luck, he is able to slip away at the last second, his world is quite definitely altered by the meeting.

Because, after all, there is really no one who can meet the Grand High Witch herself and not come away from it in some way different from what they once were.

In The Witches, Roald Dahl has managed to spin a tale that has just the right amount of whimsy, goosebumps, and breathless excitement to keep any reader, no matter their age, interested. I very much enjoyed my journey through its pages, and will be searching out other titles in Dahl’s collection as soon as possible.

“I don’t mind at all,” I said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”