Guest Story: Insubstantial

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone! In honor of today, please enjoy a story written by my wonderful friend and writing buddy, Kate Sheeran Swed.

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Image from Pixabay

 

Calliope cannot convince her blood to circulate.

It is the sensation of waking with one arm splayed on the pillow, the limb drained and temporarily useless—only it tingles throughout her body. She can’t convince her numb fingers to grasp the doorknob.

The window is open, and she sneaks onto the slope of the roof more easily than ever before. Though she can’t manage her usual grip on the gutter, her ankles don’t smart when she lands.

She is weightless. She almost giggles, thinking of how she will surprise her mother by walking in the front door. But a cold feeling against her spine stifles her laughter. It is like getting up to use the bathroom at night, when the darkness convinces her to waste no time in returning to her room, lest the monsters should realize there’s a morsel out of bed.

If she loses her grip on the earth she will fly away, a balloon without a tether.

Calliope gives her head a shake, willing the dizziness to pass. Soon she will go inside, where her mother will press a cool hand against her forehead and check for fever. For now, she scans the yard for something familiar. The trees tilt, and she blinks to set them right. The flowerbeds wobble from daffodil to snapdragon, a double exposure in her brain.

Through the chaos, she catches sight of her lunchbox, anchored in the grass. She tries to remember the last time she held the handle, but it’s hard to distinguish the difference between days and years.

It should not be here. It belongs on the kitchen counter, jaw unhinged, waiting to be sated with peanut butter sandwiches and notes from her mother: Don’t forget to hand in your lunch money! Always with a heart.

On the street, kids hurry by, backpacks quivering as they cast wide-eyed glances at the house. Calliope kneels before the lunchbox. She expects damp knees, but no sensation leaks through her jeans.

There are two boys beyond the fence now, poking noses and fingers between the bars and whispering, jabbing one another with elbows. Calliope cannot hear what they’re saying. She wants them to leave her alone.

The lunchbox is decorated with a unicorn. There are rainbows on the thermos. But the hinges are rusty, the unicorn’s horn all but faded away.

Calliope reaches for the clasp.

One of the boys squeezes between the bars of the fence, pauses, looks back to his friend. The friend urges him on with a bright red sleeve.

“What do you want?” asks Calliope. The boy looks past her and swallows, then darts toward the porch.

Calliope decides to pay him no mind. She touches the tip of her index finger to the clasp on the unicorn lunchbox.

Her finger disappears. When she pushes forward, alarmed, the rest of her hand follows.

She jerks it back.

The boy reaches the porch, touches the bottom step. For a moment, the house settles in Calliope’s vision, and she sees it as if for the first time.

The porch swing hangs drunkenly from one chain. The welcome mat is gone. The kitchen window is broken, mold-black curtains hanging dirty and frayed.

It’s disorienting, like stumbling into a carnival and searching for a familiar strain through the cacophony of clashing tunes.

The boy hurtles back down the walk while his companion giggles.

Calliope is heat. She pours it into her fingers, curls them around the handle, and hurls the lunchbox with all the substance she has left.

The boys scream when the box hits the fence. They run.

Calliope sinks once more to her knees and tries to piece it all together, her thoughts no more solid than the ground beneath her feet. She will grow too heavy for the surface and descend through layers of earth, forget her place in time and fall through the years, until everything exists at once. She will hear the reason for the cockroaches, and how they keep the melody of the world from tilting off key.

The day slinks on.

*

Calliope cannot convince her blood to circulate.


Kate Sheeran Swed loves hot chocolate, plastic dinosaurs, and airplane tickets. She has trekked along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, hiked on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland, and climbed the ruins of Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Following an idyllic childhood in New Hampshire, she completed degrees in music at the University of Maine and Ithaca College, then moved to New York City. Her stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Electric Spec, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Pacific University. You can find her at katesheeranswed.com or on Twitter @katesheeranswed.

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Madcap Aspiring Writers Workshop

Last week, I attended the 2016 Aspiring Writers Workshop hosted by Madcap Retreats. The event brought 42 aspiring writers together in a big house in the middle of nowhere, TN for three days of learning, listening, and being.

I drove from NY to TN. On the way down, I broke up my trip into two days and stopped at Luray Caverns in VA. I love caves so much and I felt like visiting one before the workshop was an auspicious way to start the trip.

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The reflective underground lake in Luray Caverns.

When I arrived at the retreat house, a giant wall of windows greeted me inside. The space was light and airy. A perfect place to host the workshop.

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It was incredibly soul-feeding to be among people going through the same journey I am. There was no explaining necessary because everyone just got it. The number of times in my life when I’ve felt this way can be counted on one hand.

I laughed with my new friends and cried with them. In the space of three days, I felt like I found family. And I learned so much. There was an incredible amount of information thrown our way during those long days of workshops. I think the important parts stuck the most, so I’m not worried about the parts that are lost to me now.

Maggie Stiefvater spent a lot of time ingraining the idea that we are idea-makers, creative people, not just writers. This is a concept that I’ll carry with me because it helps me see the world differently.

Courtney Stevens’ words are mostly lost to me now, but her infectious zeal for life and improving oneself stayed with me. Of everyone at the retreat, she gave me the courage and desire to be better.

And I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Natalie Parker who organizes Madcap retreats. She invests huge amounts of time and energy into organizing and her efforts are evident in how wonderful the workshop was. It was life-changing. And soul-feeding. And everything I wanted it to be.

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The last night there, we had a bonfire where we all burned boxes we’d been decorating with ideas for the past several days. We had the chance to write one last thing on the box before we burned it. I burned my fear and self-doubt, letting them rise into the night with the burning embers.

This workshop has not only given me tools to improve my craft but the love and support of everyone who attended. I can face the hard path of a writer because I have my tribe behind me. And I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to experience this with everyone there.

Ocean’s Pull

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Photo by Lisa

Nothing’s been the same since Pa left us last year. He got up early one morning, said he was going for some cigarettes, and he never came back. Ma said he left us for that bimbo secretary of his, but I know different.

He left us for the sea.

And now the same waves crest and crash in my soul. I’ve been trying to ignore it for Ma’s sake. She needs me. But the pull is strong and I can’t resist anymore.

It’s a wonder Pa lasted out as long as he did. I’m not as strong as him.

So tonight, when the moon is high and the night is deep, I’ll pack my things, kiss Ma’s sleeping forehead, and leave. She’ll understand. She’s got to.

Padlocked–Flash Fiction Friday Series

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Photo by Lisa

My dearest love,

This letter is my final goodbye. I would apologize for leaving in such secrecy, but it was necessary. If you’d been awake when I left, your pleading would have haunted me for days. And yet, even as I walked out the door, you turned your sleeping face to me. It was almost as if you understood the situation, even in your dreams.

Please remember how much I love you. You are the sun and stars, and our shared memories will always help guide me home. It pains me to say farewell, but I must leave you now.

You will be gone soon, too. If you’re reading this, you’ve found the lighter and blanket I left for you. Don’t bother trying to escape. The door is padlocked from the outside.

I love you with every piece of my soul. She can’t have you.

-A

The Dream Pod–Flash Fiction Friday series

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Photo by Lisa

The future began in a field of wildflowers and weeds. As we sat between hate-filled graffiti-splashed walls, we dreamed a better world into existence. We refused to be beholden to a time when anger ruled and so we fell asleep, untouchable by those who would oppress us.

If you can find us, in our lonely field of wildflowers and weeds, you are welcome to join us. There is always room for one more in our dreaming slumber. I have heard it said that the future belongs to those who dream. They were right. You can help.

New Collaboration Announcement!

IMG_8673I am very pleased to announce that my friend Lisa will be collaborating with me for my new Flash Fiction Friday series!

Every Friday, I will post a photo that she’s taken along with a short story that I’ve written inspired by her photography. We are both very excited about this collaboration and we hope you enjoy the results!

You can read about Lisa here and you can see more of her work here.