A Hopeless Affair

This is the latest entry in the flash fiction challenge posted on author Jeffrey Ricker’s website; the prompt for August was historical fiction in a marshland with a necklace as the object to include. Enjoy!

E.D. Cope rode his dapple gray stallion to the marshland, as instructed in the letter he received from his latest lover. One of many he’d acquired over the years and discarded as if they were unworthy pieces to add to his personal museum.

Cope could charm anyone and anything if he wanted—even the snakes that fled his horse’s approach. This time his lover had long brown hair, large wet brown eyes, and was often overcome with emotion. It had been too much for him to handle, despite his favor of a necklace that he bestowed upon her tenderly at their last secret rendezvous.

He dismounted, his jaw already twitching in fear and anger. He paused, holding his arms behind his back, standing behind the young woman in a long green gingham dress. She had been crying for hours and decided it best to tell him how she really felt in her last letter to him, and in discarding his favor in the process.

“Edward,” she shuddered, her voice gaining strength as she spoke despite her moroseness. She held the necklace over the Erie Canal.

“What are you doing, Louise?!” Cope snapped fiercely. “I promised you I would return! And I have!”

“You’ve come too late,” Louise softly replied, an edge to her voice now. “You promised me many things over the years I’ve waited for you. I dreamed of marrying you, because you made me feel like I had finally met the right person. I thought your woman had mistreated you, and I felt sorry for you. I thought she had left you for someone else. I was foolish to think that. You made me think that.”

“I—I–!” he stammered, watching her turn and stare at him coldly. He shuddered, his face flushing bright red, making his blonde and graying goatee stand out on his narrow cheeks and chin.

“You lied to me, Edward Drinker Cope. Me and dozens of other women, that I do not doubt now. You sicken me.”

“I’m here now, I’m not lying now! I swear it!” he rushed to her, his gaze pleading, but his clenched jaw and bulging neck veins told Louise all she needed to know.

“I’ve done despicable things to keep you happy, to keep your profession intact. I’ve broken away from the church, turned away from God, because of it. I thought you truly wanted me, accepted and loved me for who I am, despite everything—being unable to have children, being different than my peers mentally. You instead pity me and see me as no more than a broken heirloom.”

“That’s not true at all!” Cope’s hand flew out to grab the necklace away before Louise dropped it, but she smoothly avoided the move and turned away from him. He tried to get her to face him, and she yanked her arm away, nearly striking him in the face with her elbow in the process.

“You’re not the first man to lie to me and make me feel wanted, you’re not the first to cajole me into a disastrous affair. This necklace might represent hope, but to me that hope is lost.”

“We can make this right—I—I can fix this, I just need time!” Cope began to plead. I can’t lose that diamond, it’s worth a fortune and Marsh will have my head on a pike for stealing it!

“I’ve given you over ten years,” Louise muttered bitterly. “Ten years you’ve made me wait. I’ve been patient long enough. I deserve better than this, and far better than you. We are finished here!”

On the last sentence, Louise threw the necklace into the canal. It made a heart sinking splash.

Cope screamed, a vile morose wail, and his horse bolted, along with several wading birds.

He ran to the canal and jumped into the river, swimming against the current, snagging the necklace. He dragged himself ashore, gasping and coughing.

His prized possession was glinting in the fading rays of sunlight, cold against the palm of his hand. Cold and dark, like his wounded heart.

Louise, in the meantime, found his horse. She rode it back into town silently, along the bustling cobblestone streets. She dismounted and it ran back toward the marshes, whinnying piteously.

“Dear?” asked her grandmother. Louise stormed past, furious, and stomped up the stairs.

“I will hear no more of Edward Drinker Cope from this day forward,” she snarled, slamming the door.

A terse silence resumed, and Louise’s cat pattered up the stairs, mewling sadly.

This tale, while fiction, is based somewhat on real events–E.D. Cope indeed had several scandalous affairs in his life, recorded in letters which were destroyed by his daughter to preserve his professionalism. The Hope Diamond is part of the Smithsonian Institution, which funded the work of O.C. Marsh, Cope’s rival, during the infamous Bone Wars. It’s also very cursed–everyone who ever owned it fell into a calamity.

Another One Bites the Dust

This story was written for Jeffrey Ricker’s Flash Fiction Challenge–the genre was comedy, the setting in a trunk of a car, and the object to include was a vacuum cleaner. Enjoy!

I opened up my eyes and instantly started to panic. The ceiling was collapsing on me, and my wrists were bound with a bright pink zip tie.

I struggled to breathe for a moment, and when I finally did catch my breath, I caught the unmistakable scent of new car smell blended with synthetic fibers and gasoline.

I’m inside the trunk of a car?! I thought, incredulous.

For a moment, being in this position seemed oxymoronic—I couldn’t drive myself anywhere to save my life, and now, my life was in danger just by being stuck in a car.

The car was a newer model sedan, by how compressed I was in the trunk space. Well, I thought, maybe this is all a weird fever dream, and this car will become a Transformer or something, and I will wake up.

The car bounced over a curb and the driver swore.

Nope.

The engine stopped, and my stomach turned violently as the driver slammed the car door shut and stomped over to check on the driver’s side rear tire, which was now propped up on the red curb.

The driver opened the trunk, and unceremoniously heaved me out onto the asphalt. They lugged a large, old cardboard box over to it, and started to wedge it in.

Clearly, this is a brilliant individual, I thought sarcastically, ignoring my scuffed arms and legs while watching him shove the box into the trunk.

The driver turned to me, anger in their eyes, as if they heard me through telepathy. They tore off the duct tape covering my mouth, and I let out a feeble cry. Tears filled my eyes. I mumbled, “You’re…you’re stealing…a Kirby? A vacuum cleaner?”

I recognized the old vacuum cleaner from my youth, a large red demonic device that pulled hard at the carpet fibers, making a horrendous whooshing noise, getting hot as it went. I hated it. Given the circumstances, I hated it even more now.

“Shuddup!” the driver hissed, and pointed to the box. “Help me put this thing in the trunk, if you wanna live!”

The driver foolishly brandished a large pocketknife in a threatening gesture. I rolled my eyes and turned away from them. You call that a knife? the Crocodile Dundee line echoed in my mind. The driver cut the ties, setting me free.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to use this for anything?” I asked, rotating my wrists. The heat from the sun was starting to get to me. I might be in the middle of the desert…the hell does a thief need a vacuum for all the way out here? Sucking up sand and gravel?

“The hell do you care!” the driver snapped. They pushed and shoved, and as I joined them, I noticed that the rear tire started to lift off of the curb.

“I need you to push toward me,” I grunted. I backed away as the driver took over, and shoved even harder, realizing that they had left the keys in the ignition. The car had bounced back onto the road.

“Pull forward!” the driver snarled.

“But I–!” I began.

“Do it!” the driver roared. I skittered to the driver’s side as fast as I could, and turned the key in the ignition. I gently pressed the gas pedal and then accidentally put the car in reverse—or so the driver assumed. In the meantime, I managed to find my smartphone in the glove compartment, and messaged someone as fast as I could, given the lack of Wifi.

A yelp was heard from the driver as the car bumped into them, making the box jolt. I kept my foot on the gas, and put the car into 2nd gear. I found a large rock in the passenger’s seat—seriously?—and I set it on the pedal. I then leaped out of the driver’s seat with the door open, and the car revved forward at full speed!

The driver cursed, holding onto the box as long as they could. Eventually, I watched them fall to the road in the distance, their car pulling away with the vacuum wedged partially into the open trunk.

A Jeep pulled up behind me, and a group of paleontologists helped me inside, making sure I was alright. We drove past the driver in the road, and found the wreck of the car against a curved road sign, the Kirby vacuum cleaner box upright in the street. The whole thing seemed like a bizarre roadside installation gone awry.

“That guy really sucked at a clean getaway.”

An Unconventional Skiltaire Party

This month’s flash fiction challenge, prompted by Jeffrey Ricker, involved a science fiction genre, auditorium setting and a computer tablet as the object to include. I’ve also decided to include original furry characters developed by Mark Merlino in this story, the skiltaire, and I mention his longtime mate, Rod O’Riley, as a mink! I hope this brief homage and nod to furry cons goes over well. Enjoy!

Rose’s blue eyes opened. She took in the bright lights of the massive auditorium in shock, her pupils constricting and dilating, then rapidly constricting due to the intense exposure. She let out a low groan, and an irritated hiss.

Rose, can you hear me? It’s Theta, came a distant voice, frail and yet millennia old. Rose realized she was outside of her crash-landed ship—she had somehow wandered into the abandoned auditorium overnight. She pictured the pale blue and yellow bellied skiltaire, lounging on a couch somewhere, as Theta had been apt to do lately—while athletic in her youth, the millennia had caught up with her body and mind. The mental image made Rose shake her head, pressing her digits into her temples, as if fending off a prodrome of a migraine.

Rose, please…come in, Theta went on as Rose finally got her bearings. The skunk sat up, shielding her face and eyes from the lights, wrinkling her nose and sighing. You will need to locate the tablet—ancient tech left here by humans.

“What?” Rose finally grunted. Drool slathered from her lips, and she felt as if she was intoxicated. Space sickness, she realized with dread. How long was I out?

It’s been twelve hours, Theta replied telepathically. Rose managed to get on her hands and knees. She crawled weakly toward a row of empty seats in the auditorium hall. She blinked several times, hard. She gasped and nearly fell backward, lurching at the sight of the dozens of stairs below her, and the rows upon rows of seats. Take it easy—you’ll need to find a way down, I think…

“You want me to…go down there?!” Rose whimpered. The flights of stairs toward the center of the auditorium, which led to a massive center stage, were daunting enough when she was sober, and not as dizzy.

You must retrieve the tablet for us, Rose, Vinson’s voice now echoed in her mind. The humans last contact with us is the key to allowing us to return to Earth once more…

The mink didn’t project the same mental image as his mate, Theta, but the cajoling from both was enough to get Rose to growl at them aloud.

“Fine, fine,” Rose unsteadily got to her feet. Her large boots helped her stand, and she shut off the gravity adjusters, allowing her to feel less lightheaded. She still felt like throwing up, the longer she looked down the stairs. “Why did humans have to invent these damn things?” she gruffed as she wobbled down the first step of thousands. She held onto the seats’ arm rests for dear life as she hobbled down slowly.

This place seems familiar…Theta trailed off as Rose tried to concentrate on the next step down. She began to pant, to cool herself—she felt her body temperature rise considerably the more nauseous she became.

One of many such places we’ve been to, Vinson dismissed the thought.

“You both came here to Earth…to…be…in…a place…with seats and…a stage?” Rose managed between gritted sharp teeth. She stumbled for a moment, and gasped, gripping the arm of the seat by her very tightly.

Lots of skiltaire, and others, did! Theta began to recall, a warmth and joy entering Rose’s headspace.

The humans organized these events, usually, to bring us all closer together, Vinson sighed sadly. Their silence is worrisome…

Rose finally clunked her boots at the last step, gasping. She hadn’t fully adjusted to the smog permeated air of the planet, nor the recycled smoggy air, much colder, in the auditorium space.

You made it! the skiltaire and mink cheered her on.

“Woo hoo,” Rose rolled her eyes. At least my sarcasm hasn’t ebbed away from the crash…

Laughter filled her mind, and she finally managed a smile despite feeling exhausted and sick to her stomach.

Rose scanned the stage area. The control panels backstage were dark, and then, out of the corner of her eye, Rose saw a bright red orb, flickering weakly.

“Low battery,” Rose read the darkened screen of the tablet.

Give it a good whack, human tech works best if you smack it, it’ll come to! Vinson encouraged.

Rose shrugged. She then raised and lowered the tablet hard against the concrete of the auditorium floor. The gasp and hiss of Theta on impact of the tablet made Rose and Vinson wince simultaneously, despite being thousands of light-years apart.

The tablet vibrated in Rose’s hands. A harsh blue light emanated from it, and she lowered her visor to filter it. “It says…hello,” Rose wondered.

“G’day, actually,” entered a blonde Australian man, in his early thirties, in space regalia.

Rose bristled, tucking the tablet under one arm. She fumbled for her phaser, twitching her ears for the sounds of her comrades.

“Who’re you!” Rose snarled, her white fangs gleaming in the lights of the auditorium stage.

“You don’t remember me?” the Aussie was hurt, his voice echoing in the empty arena. He crossed the stage to get to her, arms spread wide in a conciliatory gesture.

“No,” Rose felt the migraine returning, and froze.

Get out of there! Vinson and Theta urged. But Rose watched as the human approached even closer.

She’s safe here, mates, was the Aussie’s telepathic reply, and Vinson and Theta stared at one another, jaws agape and Theta’s antennae quivering curiously. I won’t hurt her. I promise.

“Who are you!” Rose demanded to know again, her lids drooping and eyes rolling back.

The Aussie ran over, and caught her as she slumped forward, landing on her knees.

“You’re alright, love, you’re safe with me,” the Aussie reassured. “I’ve always been here, anyway.”

“What…what do you…mean?”

Rose! Rose?! Came the frantic cries of the mink and skiltaire, in their own spaceport thousands of light-years away.

It’s been two hours, she’s been out too long…! Vinson worried. Theta let out a loud, hmmm in thought.

The dissociative episode will end, and she will bring us the tablet, Theta reassured her mate. She has to…

Raptors in the Kitchen

This (very short!) entry for Jeffrey Ricker’s Flash Fiction Challenge features an action-adventure genre, in a restaurant kitchen, with a lone sock. An interesting combo, but then, I can be quite the clever girl! ;3 Thanks for reading!

“Clever girl!” Robert Muldoon’s last words echoed throughout the clearing. The other two raptors were busy dismembering the hunter while one made her way back toward the Visitor’s Center.

She could still scent the blood of the escaped youngling humans, enticing her to follow her sister toward them. But she took a different path inside the building, toward the back of the kitchen.

The floor was still slippery from the melted ice, which trailed back toward the freezer. Inside she heard the laments and last chuffs of her doomed sister, but a new scent made her nearly press her muzzle to the floor.

She tracked the scent with earnest, until she found it: a single torn sock, blue in color, stained with the youngling human’s blood. The concept of clothing fascinated her—why the humans could shed their cloth hides at will was beyond her reasoning. She sniffed the sock and gently grasped it between her conical teeth, blinking her olive green eyes several times to remember the scent pattern. She heard the barking chirp of her eldest sister, and ran through the adjacent dining hall, past the mural of dinosaurs, past the abandoned foodstuffs, toward the control room. She opened her mouth in a primal screech, the tattered sock drifting toward the floor.

She wasn’t sure how the tyrant had managed to squeeze inside the building, but rage flooded her mind as she leapt up at the bellowing monster. She managed to nip at the bulging neck muscles and sever a few arteries, blood gushing, but the tyrant clamped its giant teeth into her. A sudden warmth and ease passed over her as the world around her faded to black. Her body hit the floor halfway across the room with a sickening thud, and the tyrant reared up and roared in triumph as the banner reading “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” fell toward the wreckage of the Visitor’s Center.

The Keys to His Heart

This story is based on the Key Series/863 series by Matthias on YouTube, and was written for the flash fiction challenge by Jeffrey Ricker for March 2021. I hope you enjoy! :3

The Motorola text sound startled Matthias as he sat at his beloved Megadesk. Begrudgingly, he looked at the message.

Woods and Sam looked at him from the opposite sides of the office. Woods was leaned over to the left on one of the chairs with the cupholders, while Sam stood while holding the camera in the doorway. Sam’s breath caught when the ringtone hit, and Woods just rolled his eyes in frustration.

“Dude, what did he say now?” Woods grumbled, impatient.

Matthias read the text: “I can’t wait much longer. I need the life’s blood.”

At the same time, the undercover detective pinged Matthias on the computer: “Send me the drop coordinates.”

Woods redirected Matt to the message. Matt sighed deeply, rubbed his eyes in frustration and annoyance, then pulled his fingers along his cheeks. His eyes had dark circles under them—he hadn’t been sleeping well, what with everything going on at the studio. First, the key buried in the attic of one of the units. Then, everything had spiraled from there into a hellish nightmare, involving a defunct scientific laboratory called Syntec.

Syntec. The organization that had once called the studio home, that had supposedly tested on people in unspeakably cruel ways in a project code named Pegasus. The unexplained screaming through a cassette tape they found had haunted all of the trio’s dreams as of late. What were they doing to people here? Why? Why are we wrapped up in all of this? Matt thought, in a daze at the computer screen.

Everyone jumped. A loud crash and shatter meant something had fallen.

“What was that!” Sam cried, trying to pivot toward the sound. It was coming from the other side of the hallway—the side that led toward the stairwell with the Apple ][.

“I hope it’s not one of the vials…” Woods muttered, running a hand through his hair.

“Guys, we can’t worry about that now. What should I say to them? What do we do?” Matt ignored the sound, immersed in the messages from the undercover officer, and from Nelson Syphus, the founder of Syntec. I know we planned a stakeout…but Syphus is getting more impatient with us by the second. I don’t know what we should do, I mean, what if we run into him…?

Help me, came a soft sad whimper from the office doorway. Matt froze. The voice of a small child, no older than his own little ones. His heart nearly stopped on hearing it.

“Sam, come on, don’t play us like that,” he tried to laugh it off, turning around to face her. She looked confused.

“What?” she asked, raising an eyebrow and looking at Woods for confirmation. Woods looked at both of them, also confused. He blinked a few times, shook his head.

“Help me? You just said, help me,” Matt insisted. Woods and Sam looked at each other, then at Matt. Matt sighed, rubbed his face in frustration again. “Maybe I need some air.” He got up, taking the Motorola with him.

“We’re going to Descanso Gardens, right?” Sam hustled after Woods and Matt as they walked briskly toward the storage area where they kept the Mercury Mountaineer. Strike 1…Matt thought. I wonder if what we’re planning to do will be strike 2.

Matt looked at the phone. He handed it to Woods. “You read it.”

Woods read the text aloud as Matt made sure the small leather suitcase once full of vials—replaced with several sets of keys—was stowed safely on the floor of the car. He was glad he got a rental to hitch to the Mountaineer—maybe getting rid of this thing will help, he thought, desperate to escape the chaos they had been unwittingly thrust into. “Tip toe, through the window…by the window, that’s where I’ll be…”

“What?” Sam laughed nervously, glancing around at the storage area, the doorways.

“Isn’t that a song?” Matt laughed in return, thinking.

“Like from SpongeBob?” Woods smirked. Matt sighed dolefully, and grinned.

“No, it’s a song about tulips, from Tiny Tim,” Matt huffed, folding his arms and pacing outside the open door of the Mountaineer. Tanner pulled up in the rental, backing it up so that they could hitch the Mountaineer to it. “…wait. How does he know the drop location?”

I want to go home, wept the small voice that only Matt could hear. I don’t like this place.

“Did you guys hear that?” Matt mumbled, more to himself than Sam, Woods or Tanner.

“You seriously need a vacation after this!” Tanner teased as he walked past them to the studio and his newly converted office with cheesy motivational posters. “You’ve been talking to yourself again!”

“Thanks for your help, Tanner,” he grunted, while he and Woods hitched the Mountaineer to the rental.

“No problem!” Tanner grinned cheerfully as he sashayed back to his tiny lair.

“Maybe once we do the drop off they will all leave us alone?” Sam suggested. Matt laughed sardonically at that.

“Doubt it,” he gruffed. “Highly doubt it.”

“I don’t know if this is gonna work,” Woods cautiously grunted under his mask as they drove toward the Descanso Gardens.

“It’s all we’ve got right now,” Matt replied. “We’re giving John Doe the evidence, and Syphus gets his stuff back…”

“Including that horrible car with that terrifying cassette tape,” Sam agreed.

“Right.”

They pulled into the entrance to the gardens nearly two hours later. Matt and Woods unhitched the Mountaineer and suddenly, Matt saw her.

A small child, holding a stuffed Pegasus toy, looking as sad as could be, stood in the middle of a massive tulip field in the gardens.

She’s coming to get me, the child cried, shaking in fear.

“Who?!” Matt rushed toward the child. Sam and Woods ran toward him, startled.

“Matt! What the hell!” Woods growled, and Sam hustled as best she could after them.

“There’s a little girl!” Matt huffed, looking around in the tulips, in a daze.

“What?!” Woods nearly ran into him on stopping in the gardens.

“A girl, holding—holding a Pegasus–!” Matt felt the tears spring to his eyes.

“Matt…you okay, bro?” Woods looked at him, concerned. Sam finally caught up to them.

“What’s going on?” Sam demanded to know.

“Matt saw a ghost,” Woods explained.

“What!” Sam laughed, nervous and frightened. “Look…it’s bad enough we have to drop this stuff off for someone we don’t think we can trust, let alone deal with a ghost right now!”

My dad is here, the girl had run off toward a lone shadowy figure in the distance. A figure in a burned white lab coat, looking solemnly at the three of them.

“My life’s blood. Where is it?”

The Great Blackout of 1989

This is the February entry for Jeffrey Ricker’s flash fiction challenge. Enjoy!

The genre: Thriller, The object: A suitcase, The setting: A sewer

You can also read this story on Archive of Our Own (AO3).

With a grunt and a splash, the oversized rubber boots he wore hit the water lined concrete ensconced in darkness.

He sighed, adjusting his ecto-goggles in frustration, his tan jumpsuit with the tell-tale logo on his right arm giving away his profession in an instant by the city dwellers above. What he would give to be like them tonight, safe in their beds asleep.

“I should’ve retired a long time ago,” he growled before answering the hissing static of his Walkie-Talkie, attached to his gray utility belt. He pressed the button, then, matter-of-factly: “Stantz!”

“Ray!” Winston answered, urgency in his voice. Janine was at her old desk, fidgeting, trying not to let the tears come to her eyes again. “You’ve got to find that suitcase. Egon’s last research report is in there, and it’s the key to bringing back our old operation again!”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” Ray mumbled as he stomped around in the brick-and-mortar sewer system that stretched for thousands of miles beneath New York city. Ray waved his PKE meter now and then, but it barely budged, and his flashlight began to flicker as he trudged along. The silence and the cold were what got to him more than the ceaseless drips of water and the echoes of his boots on the concrete floor.

Ray paused, his goggles resembling an optometrist’s gear rather than that of a paranormal psychologist. He whirled around, startled by a cold draft that chilled the back of his neck, making its hairs stand on end.

“This place gives me the creeps!” Ray hissed into the Walkie. “Tell me why I’m down here, again!”

“Egon’s last report was on the pink slime from Vigo,” Winston rolled his eyes, grinning, not realizing Ray’s plight. “You’ve got thirty minutes to find his suitcase, and then get the hell outta there, before the cops start questioning you and us again!”

“Right…” Ray scanned the pipes and the bricks above him, noting the large archways. “It’s a shame we don’t study these sewers more…lots of legends here! And…hauntings?” He paused. The flashlight went out.

Ray instantly swung his PKE meter toward the source of the cold and soft, raspy breathing in front of him. Its lights burned green, then ochre…then…red.

Nothing appeared. No specter, out to absorb his energy, no psychological torment to wreak on his mind. Nothing but silence, and the cold.

Ray stood there, gasping for breath. He jumped up, startled, as the static from his Walkie crackled loudly.

“Ray?” came a soft, sad voice, the Brooklyn accent lessened with time and grief. “Are you alright?”

Ray pressed the button, his hand shaking more than what it should. Get a hold of yourself, Ray! It’s nothing, the PKE meter can be faulty sometimes! he thought. Then, he whispered, “Hey, Janine. I…I’ve been better, let’s put it that way!”

“Egon told me the suitcase was in the sewer by the subway…where you and Winston fell in the slime…in a letter before he…” Janine couldn’t finish the sentence. Winston took over the Walkie as she got up and left for the bathroom in the Firehouse, overcome.

“We’re running out of time, Ray,” Winston answered.

“Got it…” Ray took in a deep breath, steeled his courage, and kept walking, the PKE meter still glowing red, its antennae waving like a moth’s in seeking the light.

He followed the path he vaguely remembered from decades ago, and paused near the subway tracks, his heart hammering in his chest. I hope the subway doesn’t come down this way tonight!

“Ray,” came another voice, clear as a bell, and familiar…one he hadn’t heard in a long time. A flash of light, and Ray jumped back, his ecto-goggles whirring and pinging. Ray’s head was spinning as the green glare reduced into a small orb, making his eyes widen in pure shock. This is someone I know!

The orb hovered at his eye level for a moment, bobbed around his chest and back, then moved quickly into a dark corridor across from the subway tracks. “I left this here for you, in case I didn’t come back.”

Ray was dumbfounded. He gently removed the ecto-goggles.

Egon Spengler stood before him, in the dark corridor, holding the suitcase in his right hand. He wore a brown tweed suit, with a navy-blue vest and a white button-down undershirt, his red tie in stark contrast to the drab colors the scientist so often preferred. His eyes were no longer brown, but a pale blue, like the mists of the Atlantic at sunrise. He squeezed the handle of the suitcase firmly, and set it down against the wall of the corridor. He gave Ray a knowing, crooked grin.

Tears filled Ray’s eyes. He was too in shock to speak, but he knew his jaw had slacked open.

Egon became an orb once more, fading into the darkness gradually. “Tell Janine I love her,” he whispered before winking out of existence again.

The light began to shift into a distant light that filled the tunnel. Ray’s paralysis ended the moment he heard a rattling along the tracks.

The subway! His brain screamed as he bolted across the tracks and lurched up onto the brick platform just in time to miss being flattened by the oncoming subway cars.

“Ray!” Winston yelled, terrified.

“I’m…I’m here,” he gasped into the Walkie, rolled onto his back. He struggled to catch his breath. I gotta stop getting those hoagies! he swore to himself as he finally managed to stand, his head still spinning from everything he saw.

“You’ve got two minutes—you got the suitcase?!” Winston hissed.

“Yeah…but it looks like I just missed the subway,” Ray managed as he grabbed the suitcase from the corridor and headed to the platform, waiting for the next one to arrive.

I Must Be Dreaming

This is my entry for Jeffrey Ricker’s Flash Fiction challenge for January, 2021! I hope you enjoy!

Moondancer the My Little Pony (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Once upon a time…

The words blinked on the Word document, begging for me to continue. I sighed, fumbling for my tissues and wiping my eyes.

I shut down my laptop, turned out the lights, nearly stumbled into my brand new fake potted cycad plant in the corner of my studio apartment, and then struggled to get to sleep. The fan helped drown out my choked sobs and sniffles as I lay in bed, wondering when the police sirens would stop and when the neighbors would stop screaming at each other. I shoved earplugs into my ears, and fell into a listless, sad sleep.

My pony closet door creaked open, and a small figure bravely peeked out across the sea of beige carpet to my sleeping form.

“Moondancer, what are you doing?!” hissed the Twilight Sparkle stuck on a keyring on the closet door, ever the watchful guardian of the pastel realm of my ponies.

“She’s been so sad, every night!” Moondancer sighed, looking forlorn as I turned in a fit of weary grief and sobbed into my pillows.

“If you leave, she will put you right back on the shelf, and you cannot say a word!”

“I know…”

Moondancer’s horn glowed a bright white, as if an LED light from my fairy lights around my dinosaur shelves had broken loose and landed on the floor. I was too busy in a fit of a night terror to notice, this time wandering around a convention hall totally lost.

“Oh, Moondancer, be careful!” Fluttershy warned, twisting around the netted hovel she was perched in. She let out a frightened squeal as the unicorn trotted toward me, her horn’s light bobbing along like a firefly in the summer grass.

Moondancer paused.

“I wish you were here right now…with me…and not so far away…” I wept.

Moondancer looked back at the ajar pony closet door, then up at me.

“She made a wish!” Moondancer hissed to Twilight and Fluttershy.

“A wish for what?” Twilight whispered back.

“She wants someone with her!” Moondancer wandered to the halfway point in my bedroom.

“What!”

“Someone who lives far away!” Moondancer suddenly teleported into the potted plant, which almost knocked over from the sudden gravitational shift.

“Moondancer!!” Fluttershy screamed, then covered her mouth with her large plush hooves.

“Fluttershy!!” both the small and large Twilight Sparkles scolded. The large plush Twilight Sparkle along with a plush form of Spike the Dragon were standing guard by the potted cycad.

“Moondancer!” Spike cried, his permanent toothy grin somehow wider. “You’re supposed to be with the herd in the closet!”

“Our Lady is sad, and she wishes to see someone far away…someone she loves, I think!” Moondancer replied.

“We’re not supposed to get involved with that!” large plush Twilight admonished the unicorn.

“As unicorns, we’re supposed to get involved with wishes and magic!” Moondancer argued. “And our Lady is in need of some magic…I am tired of her crying so much every night!”

“Moondancer, she is grieving!” Twilight responded, stunned by her stubbornness. “You can’t force people to get along or love one another—those things take time and are their own kind of magic!”

“Well, it seems like having this other person around will make her happy, and I think granting that wish is fair enough!” Moondancer’s horn glowed again, this time fading in and out slowly, and fading into a warm magenta glow.

The lights in my living room area made me grunt and groan. I opened my puffy red eyes, and stumbled into the space, flicking on the lights with a tap of my foot.

The white unicorn with a magenta and purple mane and tail and purple eyes gazed up at me from the potted cycad’s fake moss and soil.

“What the—” I grabbed the toy and wondered, “What are you doing out here? I guess I had you out earlier and forgot to put you away…come on…I gotta try and get some sleep…”

I flicked off the light, and shuffled into the bedroom. I opened the pony closet door, and set Moondancer back in her spot next to Firefly and Moonstone.

I then shut the pony closet door, the bedroom door, turned on the fan louder, and flung myself back into bed, trying for a better round of dreams and sleep.

The next morning, as I opened the windows and blinds, I was startled by a knock at the door. “UPS!”

My jaw dropped open after I had taken the large box inside, and opened it. There, in a worse for wear box within the larger cardboard box, sat an original My Little Pony Dream Castle.

On top of the box was a taped note, black ink scrawled across it:

I know it’s been a while. Hope this makes up for the silence on my end.

Beneath the note was a folded receipt for a car rental company, with his name on it. My heart nearly stopped. I dropped the papers to the floor and sat in the chair at my kitchen table with a whoosh.

Moondancer had snuck out of the closet again and peered around the corner, watching me, waiting.

Twilight rolled her eyes, and Spike suppressed a giggle.

I sat there, still in shock. He’s never done something like this before…! I thought…I thought…

I picked up the paperwork off the kitchen floor. Moondancer quickly pulled away, her magenta and purple mane flying.

I set the papers on the table, and hoisted the old box up, away from the cardboard one. I gently opened it, and gasped.

Inside the Dream Castle playset were the complete accessories, plus Spike and Majesty. And then…

The custom pony I made him!

For a moment, my heart sank. Another returned gift…another heartfelt gesture spurned…

More notes were taped under the custom pony, neatly folded.

I’ll need him back…so meet me here…and I found another note, this time an address, with a time scrawled on it.  I hope to see you soon…

Genre: Fairy tale

Object: Potted plant

Setting: Studio apartment

Museum-goer

I love visiting different cities, because I get a chance to visit museums while playing tourist. Normally, I do so because I am working–for networking, or because I am presenting to others–but lately, I’ve missed traveling to cities and museums just because.

Iara the plush Velociraptor finds a way into every bag I bring to different meetings…it’s worse than packing and having a cat sit in your luggage!

And every new place I visit, I bring my plush friend, Iara, with me.

Boldly going where no maniraptoran dinosaur has ever gone before!

I’ll never forget the cold, hard, mean stare of an elderly person who saw me grinning like a goofball while posing Iara with the Endeavor, the space shuttle at the CA Science Center in LA. Nor will I forget the disdain certain people in my profession have for my “eccentricities” of having books signed, or my plush accompanying me to the museum, or for being a little “offbeat.” Suffice it to say, people can be mean spirited. I will never understand why.

But I guess that’s none of my business!

Regardless of the flack I get, I love going to natural history museums. I like being in the large halls when they are less busy, gaping at the skeletons, taking pictures of dioramas, reading the plaques. I like traveling to a new city because my first stop is always a museum. I will take an art museum if a natural history museum isn’t available, and barring that, a botanical garden.

I miss traveling freely.

This time of year will always be special to me. During this week in October (and November some years), paleontologists from all over the world convene in a different city center to discuss every ancient thing, from dinosaurs to people. And I get to see some of my amazing colleagues and friends from out of state in person. Seeing people in person is a bit of a thrill and a double-edged sword for me–I love to do so, but then I have found as I age I get easily drained by being around people, and that I need to retreat to a quiet area or outside for a bit. And that is also why I love museums–they are an escape for me.

That’s not to say I don’t like my local museums–to the contrary, I love them! I just miss being able to get out of this state and be somewhere else for a little while.

I will never forget flying over Cleveland in fall. I loved seeing the trees, so many trees, in orange, yellow and red hues. I wanted to stay there, with the trees, and the unusually nice people, rather than deal with the harsh realities and heat of California.

That’s not to say there aren’t nice people here, at the Alf Museum–they’ve been pretty awesome folks, tbh!

I’m definitely going to travel again, after I recover financially and emotionally from moving out. I need to…and I’m going to savor it even more than ever before.

Until next post…

My Little Pony-My Strange Obsession

A t-shirt design by Teeworks, where Optimus Prime kneels beside the My Little Pony Lickety Split and asks, “What do you transform into?” She replies, “An obsession.”

I’ve started customizing ponies again.

I’m not entirely sure why…it could be stress. It could be a way for me to feel happy, as ponies have always brought me joy.

It could also be an obsession rearing its head at a time when isolation is the norm…this return to making custom MLPs during a time of crisis for me is not new. It was, in fact, inspired by something else entirely…an odd combination of things, really. Something strange has made its way into the neighborhood of my mind…that’s for sure!

I mean, I could have ignored the announcement about Ghostbusters: Afterlife earlier this year, but the trailer piqued my interest, so I dove back into the Ghostbusters film and Real Ghostbusters cartoon as the pandemic wore on without an end in sight. And then I saw the announcement on the merge between…My Little Pony and Transformers, Ghostbusters and Power Rangers. And…yeah. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…guess which one I thought was the worst combo…!

GHOSTBUSTERS Meets MY LITTLE PONY in Crossover Collectible_1https://mlpnk72yciwc.i.optimole.com/cqhiHLc.WqA8~2eefa/w:auto/h:auto/q:75/https://bleedingcool.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MorphinPinkPonyOutofPack_2000x.jpg

These designs are…okay, at best. The worst offender is Plasmane, and since I am fond of the Real Ghostbusters, and of a certain bespectacled paranormal scientist who collects spores, molds and fungus…I felt I had to make the anniversary of both Ghostbusters and MLP more special. The Hasbro rendition seems cheap…the ponies here are all recycled G3 molds from Comic Con, with sculpted manes/tails. The eyes aren’t painted on properly, either. Just…no.

Not just one, but now three ponies have materialized from the ether! Janine, Egon and Slimer are all customs in my expansive herd of MLPs…here is a picture of all of them together, taken from my Twitter feed…more pictures of them are/will be available on my custom MLP website.

Janine (white glitter unicorn with blue eyes, red hair and a pink and purple Ghostbusters jumpsuit) nuzzles Egon (yellow glitter pony with green eyes, white hair and a tan Ghostbusters jumpsuit) while Slimer looks up at them (green baby pony with green hair)

I have also been writing a lot of fan fiction about Ghostbusters AND My Little Pony as separate entities…although one such story crossover is in the works!…over the past few months on AO3. Creating in these worlds is comforting for me, rather than developing my own…which is frustrating, because I wanted to finish my novel this year. I’ve been finding that these stories are taking precedence, and I will get back into my novel again…it’s just inspiration has run dry in terms of dinosaurs, likely because of all the paleo drama.

Collecting and customizing toys is seen as weird by most people. I don’t know why. I mean, it’s not like I’m hurting anyone by doing this, and it’s something that makes me happy. Ideally, I would have someone to share this stuff with without feeling bad about it…my past relationships have made me feel less than for collecting/customizing MLPs…so I am hesitant to get into the dating scene and showing my prospective husband my pony room. I’m hoping for the best, but for some reason, ponies are a way to push people out of my life, rather than bring them in. And that’s not okay, because ponies are a part of my life in much the same way my career is, and being rejected for these fundamental parts of me over the years has made me retreat deeper into these things for self comfort. I have found communities online to share in pony finds and my art, but it’s not the same as a deep, meaningful relationship with someone. *sigh* I digress.

In the meantime, I will go on making ponies and art, as these things bring me joy. And those who don’t like it will get the Kondo approved yeet.

Until next post…!

Where to Go from Here…Rambly Post About Paleo Ahead…

I’ve been making art for a long time. Most of the time, this endeavor has been for me, as art and writing relax me. Being a self-made artist doesn’t pay the bills well, so I’ve had to lean on other career paths to keep me afloat.

I’ve also been studying paleontology and dinosaurs for a long time. These topics are a special interest for me, and having a career in science education–being able to at least share some of that knowledge with the general public–has been amazing. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had in paleo over the years.

But lately…I’ve been distancing myself from paleo. I feel this is due to the way that online and in-person communities in paleo have been established…and it’s not good for the future of this field, in my honest opinion.

I’ve tried, time and time again, to join paleo communities (art-wise and professionally), and discourse in paleo communities online, especially on Twitter, is…well…horrible. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned a lot about people in being a professor, and the way some people in these professional spaces and organizations behave is deplorable. And they keep getting away with it.

Being a part of the Twitter/Instagram/facebook paleo community is the worst. It’s meme-centric, almost 4-chan like in its intensity and scrutiny. If you don’t “get it,” you are not part of this exclusive online “club.” Any valid concerns/criticisms with topics that can be misunderstood or misconstrued are often then considered an impetus for a fight. The OP will then send their followers notes, rallying to their defense, and DM the critiquer outright, claiming they are in the wrong. I should know–it’s happened to me several times, and each time it’s exhausting. This kind of behavior is, honestly, toxic. And it’s what’s driven me away from using any paleo/paleoart hashtags much less even associating with the members of the online paleo “community” at all.

I’m saddened by this. I want to be a part of this community. It’s been a part of my life for years. I just can’t stand by and let myself and others be doormats for awful folks, though…and as a result, for my own mental health, I’ve had to take a lot of steps back from it all.

It’s why I draw dinosaurs for fun, and prefer to write fiction over research.

In the meantime, I have noticed just how discriminatory paleo is, to newcomers and to veterans, and I’ve decided…that if I am to return for more studies, I will pursue a PhD in geoscience education.

Yes, I am well aware the US is on fire, with Trump at the helm. Yes, I am well aware a PhD is a huge responsibility.

My passion has changed course. I want paleo to be accessible and accomodating to ALL. I am tired of people in charge just letting these top tier researchers do what they want, because funding. Screw that.

I’ve been pushed aside in paleo in a number of ways. I identify with neurodiverse conditions (in particular ADHD/ASD). Whether I was doing field camp, excavating a dinosaur, or in the confines of a classroom, I felt like I couldn’t keep up. Why?

Because I don’t drive (my choice, due to multiple accidents I’ve been in that nearly cost my life). Because I don’t drink alcohol (my choice, due to alcoholism in my family). Because I don’t walk as fast or as far as others without pain in my legs, and my arms fall asleep as I move around (I have hypermobile joints). Because I can’t lift heavy objects, and might need help doing things without direct and precise instructions. Because I’m a woman, automatically less than. And I shouldn’t have to justify ANY of these reasons. I should be welcomed and accepted for who I am and what I bring to the table (art, stories, communication, and education being my strong points). And I should be treated professionally from the get-go. There shouldn’t be any concerns about my safety, whether I am at a field site or in the classroom.

What is worse, is how BIPOC and LGBTQIA+, and other disabled individuals have been treated throughout paleo’s systemic culture. Why does this continue? Funding?? Other BS? I am honestly done with myself and others being mistreated because well…we’re different. It’s the kind of garbage I’d expect in the past, not in the present.

I know this all is a big ask. I know it “ruins the culture of paleo” for some. Honestly? That’s too damn bad. I think things SHOULD change, in order for professional organizations to continue, things MUST change for the better. We have a LONG way to go with a lot of it. But I feel my personal experiences best serve those disabled folks that have been pushed out…that is what I would like to focus my PhD on. Disabled folks in geosciences, in particular, paleo. We need better representation, and I can use my privilege as a cis gendered white woman to help others in need.

If paleontologists are serious about keeping their jobs and their field going in the future, we seriously have to consider how we behave, talk and are open around others. How are we fostering an environment that is susceptible to change in the right direction, when we continue to allow others to be mistreated because it’s “par for the course”?

There is no excuse for toxic behavior in paleo. I want to get my PhD so I can stand up for myself and my friends and use that privilege to help those in need in geoscience education and in paleo, not because I want more money, or fame or to be a part of a top tier research institution. I want to show others you can succeed, no matter the circumstances…and while I am doing that, as I am now, I feel that in academia having a PhD is the way to be taken seriously at last.

And that situation is for another rant altogether. My stomach is snarling so I’ve got to stop hyperfixating on this frustration.

Thanks for reading…and until next post…

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