The Marks of Time

Today I strolled out to the open grass between our base gym’s track and the four co-located baseball fields. I visited places where my wife and I spent hours when we were dating, and the wide spaces I went to on my own when I wanted to be alone and think about life, and God, and myself, and maybe just watch the stars. 


Twenty years ago, a small concrete bridge made a way across the drainage that splits the field. During our long nighttime walks, Jami and I would often sit there and talk.

The bridge is gone. It has been for years now, in fact. But there used to be a patch of lighter concrete where you could see its absence. Even that is gone now, the whole drainage ditch a uniform moldy-looking shade of dark grey. 

Buildings are long gone that once marked the start of our relationship: a solitary dormitory where one of our mutual friends lived on the opposite end of the fields, and the H-style dorms where Jami and I first met, torn down and replaced with better, newer, four story facilities. The hills look roughly the same, places where we laid in the grass on the slopes and watched the clouds or stars, depending on our shift schedules. The stone bench I’m sitting on, under a tangled mess of trees, still stands and sees occasional use, judging by the trash left beside it.

Me from twenty years ago came to this spot and looked forward, uncertain what “a few more” years of military service might bring, and what new experiences might follow afterward. That young Airman moved with youthful energy, some combination of strength and naïveté, a blissful ignorance and hopeful expectation. 

He never would have guessed that I’d be sitting here one day, looking back at him.


Nearby stands one tree which looks more like five twisted together, all on its own on the slope of emerald and caramel and sand-colored grass. Trunks and roots bent and cracked, body slumped over as if halfway broken by a typhoon–a crippled and damaged thing, reaching for blue sky but brought back to earth by the weight of its limbs. Vibrant leaves blossom from every branch; this tree is alive, without a doubt. But it looks broken and scarred, burdened with past trauma, a fighter knocked down, resting on one knee with a gloved hand on the mat for support, catching his breath, straining to rise again but wobbling with the exertion of staying upright.  

I wonder, is there healing for that tree? Is there some path to restoration, some hope that one day it will stand–perhaps not upright and firm, but at least a little steadier, a little less bowed, a little more whole…? 

Or are there experiences that, though we survive the ordeal, no, contrary to the popular wisdom, they do not make us stronger? Things that leave their scars and cracks in the thickest of bark, that rend and tear and splinter the sturdiest and freshest of young wood? 

Can a gnarled, hunched, and wearied thing like this at least become something reminiscent of former glory? 

…Asking for a friend. 

Bullet Journal Part 2: Personalization

In my first Bullet Journal post, I talked about the results I tracked during the first month testing out how I liked the system.

In this post, I wanted to share a few of the personal touches from my journal. 

A look through social media or Google Images for anything “bullet journal” might return wild results that look more like a scrapbooking site than some quick and easy system for tracking tasks.

Some argue there’s a difference between bullet journals (which have little to no complexity, basic subjects, simple uses) versus the “omnijournals” where people are tracking anything and everything, from books to read, to which episodes of Dexter they’ve watched, usually with impressive calligraphy, artwork, colorful inks, and even art supplies like stamps, stencils, and washi tape. It can get expensive if you go all out, but the system can function just as well in a 69 cent memo pad. 

While I think the minimalist version has great usefulness and merit, I’m too artsy and doodle-prone to be content with that. So when I found an article called “The Comic Book Journal” on the bullet journal site blog, I decided that was closer to what I wanted. This allowed me to capture some moments and memories, like a family trip to a restaurant, some time relaxing in the shade of Okinawan banyan trees, and a silly drawing to remind me to avoid superficial garbage and distractions. 

Here’s what worked for me: 

Beyond the basics (index, future log, monthly spread, daily entries), I adopted a more complex monthly format that allows tracking of recurring activities–great for building habits and checking progress toward goals. 

A lot of the purpose of the bullet journal is to serve as a brain dump memo pad which can quickly feed into indexed sections based on the content. Someone recommends a good book? Jot it in the daily notes, so that later you can put it into the “books to read” spread. Hear a line that inspires you? Add it to a motivational quotes spread for mental fuel when you need a pick-me-up or a kick in the procrastination. When the spouse says “We need toilet paper next time we go to the store,” or when you realize the car needs a tune-up next month, put those on financial spreads split for short-term and long-term expenses. 

I loved pictures I found of a bookshelf spread with books you color in as you finish reading them, or popcorn kernels for movies you want to watch.  

Watching movies is clearly easier than reading books…

I have some fitness goals I want to reach, so I set up a tracker for push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and generic strength-focused workouts. I also put in a page for meal plans, so I can easily grab the right ingredients and put together lunches for a few days at a time. For my writing efforts, I put in a year-long word count spread with a color code for how many words I manage on a given day, and space to jot down writing ideas.  

It turns out twelve hour fly days don’t help me get a lot of writing done.

Some of the artistic pages incorporated ways to track or focus on gratitude, which I thought would help me maintain positive energy. I liked the gratitude “sunburst” the most, with rays for each day and then some.  


I viewed that as part of my month-long tracking, so a new sunburst got added for this month right before my February spread. The habit trackers have been great for pushing me toward making better decisions and achieving my goals. For example, last month I tracked whether I logged all my meals in my fitness pal, but this month I added a box for which days I kept below my calorie count. And while I don’t drink alcohol all the time and keep it to a small amount (a couple shots max) whenever I do imbibe, I decided a box for “no alcohol” was a way to force a conscious decision of “do you really want a drink?” The mental reward of checking a box that said I didn’t partake is enough to make me hesitate and actively consider the question rather than drinking just because it’s there. 


The artistic aspect of the way I’m doing my journal lets me capture memories and moments in pictures. Maybe it’s a character’s silly expression or a mindless doodle, but sometimes it’s an attempt to capture the way the sunrise painted amber on the tips of purple clouds, or the hilltop view overlooking the ocean with islands on the horizon. For me, these also break up the monotony of tasks and appointments in my journal, giving me something cool to look at when I flip through the pages.

A drawing of some sunrise clouds with touches of amber on the tips.
A view from a high hill overlooking the sea on the horizon

All of that said (and shown), this is just what I found kept me motivated and engaged in these areas I wanted to track. My format might not work for every reader. 

The personalization makes all the difference. 

I have a co-worker friend of mine who started setting up his Bullet Journal, and he paged through mine to get some ideas. We talked at length about what I used and why, but from the get-go, he proclaimed he wanted the minimalist arrangement, nothing elaborate or frilly. I stopped in his office today and saw a Leuchtturm 1917 opened with a number of familiar spreads–all of them clean and neat, black and white, crisp and sharp. Most of all, I noticed the bright smile on his face as he showed off his work in progress. I recognize that happiness–it’s the same sensation I feel about my Bullet Journal, even though mine is full of varied letter shapes, random doodles, and colored pencils. 

Do you “BuJo” ? (confession: I hate that word and I won’t be using it any more.) What have you found works for your needs? Do you go artistic or minimalist in your journal? Let me know in a comment. I’d love to see how you set up yours–maybe I’ll get a new idea for mine!

Where Did The Family Go?

“Where did you get that idea?”

It’s a question people often ask writers, especially when the writing goes to dark places. My wife worries about where I come up with some of my plot lines, particularly if I’m describing some evil deed or villainous plan a character is going to carry out.

While we sometimes have an inkling where and why the inspiration first struck, all too often it’s hard to nail down… hence the superstitious talk of “the Muse” and other ways we describe the inexplicable. 

But oftentimes, characters, dialogue, plots, and details slip into our writing because of something we’ve personally noticed in the real world. It’s one reason why writers go to coffee shops or outdoor cafes to people-watch. There are some real characters in the world auditioning for a role in our books!

So the other day I was on my way to a different base on island, and I got behind a small car with one of those stick-figure decals on the back window. This decal was a woman holding a microphone and singing.

As I looked closer, I realized she wasn’t alone, at least not originally. Where there should normally be a stick dad or stick spouse, some stick kids and maybe a dog or cat, someone instead had placed cut decals of black plastic over the other figures so that it almost seemed like they had never been there.


This made me wonder why, a question for which I couldn’t come up with any good answer. 

At best, perhaps the woman bought some family’s used car on island. It’s not hard to scrape off an unwanted decal, though. I also thought, perhaps she got divorced and covered up the family.

But to be honest, I can’t imagine covering up instead of removing, unless you wanted it to be obvious that at one point these four family members were there, and now they are not. It seemed like a small memorial of sorts, a way of calling attention to the undesired absence.

Then because I’m warped  creative, I began thinking of less uplifting possibilities. 

Could it have been a vicious divorce she didn’t want? Perhaps a husband fought for custody of the kids (and even the dog), and convinced the court she was unfit.

Was there some terrible car accident?

Did the family home burn down, claiming those lives? Most buildings on Okinawa are made to withstand typhoons, and aren’t that likely to go up in flames. What about a collapse due to an earthquake?

What about a Yakuza hit? Maybe she double-crossed a crime boss, and instead of killing her, he took out the family, knowing that living with the loss would be harder than dying. I could have been right behind the main character of an action / revenge story, the Japanese version of an 80s Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal film playing out in real life! Who knows!

So… if you ever purchase a used car that has someone else’s stick figure family on it, do all the writers a favor and remove the remnants. Don’t simply cover it up, because I guarantee the story that gets made up will be way worse than the truth.

My Brain on Paper

About a month ago I found an article introducing the Bullet Journal, which is an old-school pen-and-paper method for organizing tasks. The original system put to the public three years ago was designed to be minimalist and quick, allowing one to track past tasks completed and progress toward goals, organize current schedules and priorities, and plan for future efforts or upcoming issues.

The Bullet Journal is essentially your brain in a notebook

…except it remembers everything perfectly.

It’s quick to start and manage, and flexible enough to adapt to any number of specialized uses.

The “Bullet Journal” concept has since grown into a large community of people who incorporate a wide variety of artistic designs and complex tools into their bullet Journals. Instagram, Facebook, and the bullet journal site linked above all have an array of photos and ideas ripe for the picking.

I started mine in a cheap notebook to get used to the idea, then upgraded to a long-term version.

the Leuchtturm 1917 lines of dot grid notepads are popular choices.
 

I decided to give it a shot for a month before posting my thoughts on the process, along with an intro of my journal and an explanation of what I found worked well for me. 

The system feeds off the satisfaction that comes from the visible reminder of task completion, the mental reward of checking off tangible lists, and the relief of jotting down notes to reduce the busyness in our scattered minds.

(Pic)

All those efforts go back to one concept:

  • You can’t make progress when you’re not aware of your current circumstance.
  • You can’t be aware of what you don’t monitor.
  • You can’t monitor what you don’t track.
  • You can’t track what you don’t measure.

Similar to the year-long word count spreadsheet (which I posted about at the start of the new year), my Bullet Journal gives me more insight and detail on what I’m doing that is or isn’t intentionally moving toward the goals and desires I say I want to achieve. 

In the end, after a month, I looked back and discovered I had done the following:

  • I watched 10 movies with the wife and/or the kids.
  • I recorded and posted 8 songs with my wife or on my own (not counting instrumental jam sessions).
  • I wrote 32,887 words and kept above the 1K / day goal I set for this year.
  • I did 1,140 push-ups, 2,180 sit-ups, and 39 minutes of plank.
  • I filled a gratitude log with daily entries and several bonus lines.
  • I logged 24 of 31 intentional morning routines.
  • 17 of 31 days writing 1K words or more.
  • 25 of 31 days logging all food intake for weight loss
  • 26 of 31 days walking 5K steps or more
  • 17 of 27 days drinking >64 oz of water (added this a few days in)
  • 10 of 21 days doing 100 push-ups (added a week and a half into January)
  • 10 of 21 days doing 200 sit-ups
  • 7 of 21 days doing strength workouts
  • 7 of 21 days doing 5 minutes of plank
  • and 10 of 12 days being intentionally outdoors for >15 minutes (not just walking to my car, etc)

Looking back over the journal entries, I saw trends and thoughts that needed repeated emphasis. I also saw places where I came up with a solution or plan, and found that it worked.

All in all, like many systems, gimmicks, and gadgets, it comes down to individual preference.

A Bullet Journal is great if it works for you, and if you keep it up. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and intend to continue using the system. In my next post, I’ll show some ways I adapted the journal to my interests and needs.

Lifesinger

This is part 3 of 3 for my BlogBattle series of fan-fiction using the characters from CW’s Supernatural. 

Genre: Fairy

Word: Iridescent

Okay, BlogBattlers, I totally blew up the word count rule on this one (just shy of 2000 words), because I had WAY too much fun bringing the story to a close. So I don’t consider it a legitimate entry for the contest. BUT I’m passing it on because you lovely people read the first two and deserve a (hopefully) good ending. 

—–

Bloodied and bruised by the woodland monster they’d taken to calling Thorn, Dean Winchester accepted an offered helping hand for once, and rose to his feet. Frustration filled his eyes and he stared at the human-form angel Castiel. “What the hell was that thing, Cas?”

“A spriggan,” Castiel said. “A woodland spirit of wrath.” He stared up the mountain path as if reading a mystery in the lines of the trees. “Something is amiss here—something of evil that has no rightful place. But you’ll need the Lifesinger of this particular site in order to expel the corruption.”

Sam ran a hand through his hair. “Spriggans, Lifesingers… what are we dealing with?”

“There are more than angels and Demons at war in the spiritual realm,” Castiel said. “Nature has Her own ranks of companions and guardians, and their associations are not always clear.”

Dean shook his head. “Come on, the trees are alive here or something?”

Castiel shrugged. “Your people long have kept stories of such things. Sprites, elves, feyfolkken… faeries. Voices in the wind, women in the waters… why do you think His Word speaks of trees clapping hands and rocks crying out?”

Dean scoffed and opened the door of the Impala. “Come on, Sam,” he grumbled. “We’re off to find Tinkerbell to see if she can sprinkle the ritual site with some of her pixy dust.” He waggled his fingers in the air like casting a spell, then sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine.

Castiel climbed into the back, and Sam grabbed his father’s journals from the glove box. “Maybe Dad can shed some light on all of this…”

Dean nodded. “Which way?”

Castiel cocked his head. “I assume Sam means that John Winchester’s experiences and insights may apply to our own. Are you sure Thorn didn’t hit your head too hard?”

“No, Cas,” Dean growled. “Which way to this Lifesinger you mentioned? Up the path to the site? Somewhere down in Boulder?”

Castiel sat back, eyes wide. “Oh. I have no idea. What about you, Sam?”

“What do you mean, you have no idea?” Dean rubbed his face and sighed. “What, do I point the hood at the nearest Disney store and hope for the best?”

“While potentially fun,” Castiel said, considering, “I’m not sure that would help, Dean.”

“Where do you normally find a Lifesinger?”

“Oh. There are precious few around that I know of. Most of those traditions have died off over the centuries. We could try one of the nearest reservations, perhaps. Ireland was always a good place to look, but I don’t think we have time for overseas travel…”

“The McSwains’ cabin,” Sam said. “Dad said Grant and Teagan watched over this place and did a lot more than that in their younger years.”

Dean put the car in drive, spun a one-eighty, and headed downhill. “Sure,” Dean muttered. “Let’s fetch the hundred year old lady to save us. If she’s not drooling on herself, wondering what decade it is…”

On the return trip, they left the Impala at the clearing where they’d fought Thorn. Sam cut his long-legged stride to baby steps in order to walk with one arm around Teagan McSwain’s frail form. Castiel kept a curious distance from the woman, watching her with sidelong glances and questioning eyes.

Teagan watched the branches, sometimes skittish at each noise, sometimes smiling with wonder. She hummed a flowing tune that made Sam think of dancing, but her faltering steps seemed far from whatever joyful memory she clung to in her mind.

Dean kept getting ahead of the group, then waiting with arms crossed until they reached him. “Shoulda brought the axe, Sammy,” he said as they neared the top of the second hill. “These trees aren’t normal.”

The trunks looked curved and stretched, shaped rather than grown. They formed two long ranks that bent toward each other, their branches mingling high overhead in a natural archway. The air grew stuffy and humid, but carried the scent of lilac. Birds flitted to and fro some distance from the path, singing out warnings to each other. But none came near the path into the ritual site.

Castiel stopped before the first tree. “I can’t enter,” he said. “Or, rather, I won’t.” Dean and Sam turned to meet his gaze and saw resolution plain on Castiel’s face. “I told you, there are other powers at work. And while I could exert authority over this place, I feel it would be… disruptive. Inappropriate.”

“Great,” Dean said, and strode into the dimness ahead, flexing his fists.

Sam guided Teagan beneath the trees, checking over his shoulder. Castiel stood, hands clasped in front of his tan coat, concern etched in the wrinkles on his face.

“He’s right, you know,” Teagan whispered. “His kind… they aren’t always welcome in places like this.”

Sam faced her, shocked. “You know what he is?”

She nodded. “Seen angels a time or two. Bright like dawn, even when they try to hide it.” Her face darkened and she clutched Sam tight. “Better than the opposite kind…”

Sam pursed his lips and thought of his own encounters with demons. Crowley’s face came to mind, the prince of Hell joking and laughing at Sam’s expense. “I’ll agree with you there, ma’am,” Sam said.

Dean’s mouth curled in doubt. “You think you’re gonna walk in and magically fix this?”

“I hope so.”

“Then why didn’t you do it before we got here?”

She rolled up her sleeve and revealed two crimson lines scratched in her skin. “I tried… but Thorn… I couldn’t get here alone.”

Sam glared at Dean and he fell silent.

After what felt like several minutes, the tree-arch opened to reveal a small grotto carved in a sheer cliff of rock. The sunlight felt thin and faded, and its beams wavered as if distorted. Thorn lay huddled against the stone wall in a fetal ball, its green eyes glaring at the intruders. A hissing sound emitted from the spriggan’s mouth, but it made no aggressive move.

Dean stood between Teagan and Thorn, ready to fight even with no chance of winning. Sam led Teagan into the grotto, and she shivered as she took a deep breath.

She pointed at Thorn. “What is that?”

“Cas says it’s a spriggan,” Sam answered. “Some kind of nature spirit.”

“No, you daft boy… the blackness in its foot. It reeks of Hell and corruption.”

Sam squinted and spotted a jagged chunk of dark metal shaped like a spiked jack from a child’s game sticking out of Thorn’s heel. The spriggan’s fingers curled near the object, hesitant and defensive lest anything touch the wound.

Sam approached, hands extended in a gesture of peace. “Let me help you get that out,” he said in a soft tone.

Thorn hissed again and bared its claws.

“I think that’s my job, son,” Teagan said. She coughed to clear her throat, then stepped into the middle of the grotto. Her voice rose in the wavering song she’d been humming, raspy at first then strong and clearer with every word.

Grey and strong the stone and green the vibrant leaves

And bright the lilac blooms beneath the verdant eaves

Before Sam’s eyes, the woods responded to Teagan’s call. Glowing sprites winked into view and fluttered between sun-drenched branches. Colors like a liquid rainbow dripped from every leaf. Strands of emerald light twisted around Thorn and Teagan, growing in brightness until Sam couldn’t look at them any longer.

Teagan sang on, heedless of the change.

Come now every fae, awaken from your dream,

Bring forth the light of day, unleash the living stream

Let glory shadows slay, and purest life redeem

Thorn jerked and its foot kicked toward the grotto’s entrance. Shimmering light pooled around the shadowy metal. With a thunderclap, the chunk of darkness burst out of Thorn’s foot and hurtled through the archway like a bullet from a gun.

“We need to get that before it corrupts anything else,” Dean shouted, dashing through the trees after the jack.

Sam hesitated and glanced at Teagan and Thorn, who both seemed frozen in swirling light. Then he ran after Dean. They lumbered through the woods, snapping branches on the ground and stumbling over roots. Then they reached the end of the archway and found Castiel.

The angel stood squared up against a man in a long black coat who held the jack up to the light with a grin.

“Crowley,” Dean said. “What in Hell are you doing here?”

“Hello again, boys,” Crowley said. “Sorry for the trouble. And quite right, Dean. One of my lads lost this little bauble during a recent trip this way, and, well… I couldn’t just come get it on my own. Not allowed, you see. Too… disruptive.” He winked at Castiel.

Dean took a position beside Castiel. “What is that thing, Crowley? I don’t think demons are coming up and tossing jacks to pass the time.”

“You care to play?” Crowley extended his hands as if offering the object, then snapped it back. “Whoops, looks like none of you brought any balls. Maybe next time.”

Sam heard more footsteps approaching from the grotto and turned to see a burly, half-naked man in his twenties, with Teagan’s knitted sweater wrapped around his waist, followed by a young redhead the same age wearing the rest of the old lady’s oversized clothes.

The redhead strode past Sam and got in Crowley’s personal space. “I told you before, you’re not welcome here, demon,” she seethed.

“Good to see you again too, Teags.” Crowley turned to the man and looked him up and down. “And you… You’re a lucky man, Grant McSwain. Though you should put on some clothes… you’re going to get Dean all worked into a tizzy.”

Teagan slapped him across the face.

“Well aren’t you a feisty one,” Crowley said as he massaged his jaw. “Such a lost art, hospitality. I suppose I shall bid you farewell.”

He vanished in a puff of brimstone and ash.

Sam doffed his jacket and wrapped it around Grant, but Castiel eyed Teagan with as much suspicion as he’d given Crowley. “Mortals weren’t meant to drink from that. Not even guardians.”

Teagan bowed her head, sheepish. “I know. And we didn’t mean to… but I couldn’t let that piece of Hell corrupt him.”

Dean looked at Grant and sighed. “Thorn, I presume. And you’ve been guarding… what, the Fountain of Youth?”

“We found it in the Fifties,” Teagan answered. “Our last expedition, though we didn’t know it at the time. Once we realized what it was, we stayed to protect it. We had to.”

Dean nodded. “From the Red scare? Worried about Communists?”

Grant shrugged. “More like the Red, White and Blue scare. A source of power that could turn General Patton into a young man again, that could make a man like McCarthy live forever? That’s too much for any government to control. But it’s safe now, thanks to you all. And it’ll stay that way.”

“You weren’t supposed to drink from it,” Castiel stressed.

Grant smiled at Teagan and took her hand. “I wonder if we just got fired from being guardians.”

Everyone chuckled, except Castiel, who disappeared with a rush of wind.

They started down the path toward the Impala, taking in the fresh air. Once they reached the car, Sam offered Grant and Teagan a ride.

“You know what,” Grant said, “I think we’ll walk. I forgot what it’s like to not feel stiff all the time. From age, mind you, not from being Thorn.”

The boys said their goodbyes, and the Impala roared down the hillside.

Alone under the trees, Grant leaned close to Teagan and held her tight. “What did I ever do to deserve you? After so many years, you’ve saved me one last time…”

A mischievous light sparkled in Teagan’s eyes as she looked at the youthful Grant. “Last? Maybe not…”

Chaos in Creation

My lunchtime view as I wolfed down a sandwich:


Thank You, Lord, for the beauty of Your creation in the midst of all our chaos.

As calming as this should be, I am not calm. After all kinds of discussion about immigration and security, I can’t help but think of the image of a three year old Syrian boy face down in the sand. He was one of the few out of the throng of people displaced by the crises in our world, one circumstance that caught our attention.

I can’t picture what his life was like. 

But I can picture my youngest boy, now six, the way he lights up every room he’s in and every face he sees. I try to picture him lying face down on the beach, but I don’t want to see that. 

So I try to picture someone explaining to me, in that circumstance, that “we’re worried about Trojan Horses and terrorist threats, that’s why we couldn’t help you.”

I try to imagine how absolutely hollow and self-serving those words would sound.

It’s hard. I don’t have answers or good policy suggestions. I just have these feelings on my mind that I need to get out.

Yeah, it’s a base appeal to emotion trying to stir up compassion. I always thought compassion was pretty exceptional. I always thought America was too.

But at least we’re sort of safe or something.

Dear United States,

Saw this on a friend’s FB wall and thought of this post:
http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/refugee-stories

Cherry-picked instead of the “randomly selected” that the page implies? Sure. Maybe. Cynical me admits that’s possible.

BUT these stories are also just as likely true. These experiences I’ll never understand are some people’s daily life. If I can talk about how pro-life I am and how much I love Jesus and how bad the world needs the Gospel, then maybe I can look at these people’s desperate needs and not see only an ISIS ploy.

“We should be careful, though,” caution says, parroting the words fear whispers. “We should be wise as serpents.”

Yes, let’s. Wise as serpents, we’re to be–but not actual snakes.

Mike Patz

I love you. (I love us.)

I thank God for our nation and our liberties and our diversity and our exceptional approach.  Jon Stewart is right: “This ain’t easy … America is not natural. Natural is tribal. We are fighting against thousands of years of human behavior and history to create something that no one’s ever done. That’s what’s exceptional …”

Which is why I plead with us to consider these four words: Fear not. Forget not.

Fear not.

Do not live in fear.

Do not lead from fear.

Do not look at people through the lens of fear.

Let’s be a land of the free and a home of the brave. Especially to any American who follows Jesus, I remind us that our way is not the way of fear. Our path is not the path of paranoia. I do not suggest that we abandon wisdom, but we are commanded to be anxious for nothing.

My…

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Carbon Footprint – a #BlogBattle entry

Genre: Suspense Thriller (ok, maybe that was the goal, but this is more of a plain old action scene.)

Word: Air

Part two of my Supernatual Fanfic from last week, where Sam and Dean Winchester set out to find Teagan McSwain’s missing husband and instead encountered a strange, wood-clad being of natural fury.

P.S.: I went too long with this one (1,134 words) and I don’t have time to edit it. I apologize, and I’m fine if it doesn’t really count for the BlogBattle (too long and not quite the intended genre). I figured getting part 2 out was better than nothing.

——

Deep in the woods of Colorado, on a gentle sloping hillside that led up to the Rockies, vines the size of young trees twisted across the hood and around the tires of the Winchesters’ black Chevy Impala. Creeping tendrils slid and scratched the windows, seeking entry. Sam pumped the pedal, trying to shake the car free. The engine whined and the Impala shuddered, but the barricade of plant-life held firm.

Between leafy strands, Sam spotted Dean grappling with Thorn. The humanoid’s wiry limbs held unexpected strength, its body covered in flexible tree bark, its glowing eyes radiating an emerald light.

The car shook as Dean rebounded off the front bumper. “Hey Sammy,” he growled, “Mind getting something to help kill this thing? Or are you just gonna sit there and—”

He screamed as Thorn hurled him across the clearing. The wooden creature glared at Sam, then lumbered toward Dean.

Sam dove out the passenger door and dodged a reaching vine, then popped the trunk. More strands curled toward him, but he wove and ducked through their attacks. One heavy branch lay across the trunk. Sam’s arms strained and his jaw clenched as he lifted the plant off the vehicle.

The trunk sprang open, revealing a stash of weapons both conventional and supernatural. Sam dug through a duffel and tried the usual implements—salt, holy water, garlic, even chili powder—all to no avail.

At first, the vines curled around Sam’s ankles like tangled shoelaces. He broke into a madcap trot, high-stepping around grasping plants while trying other resources in their arsenal.

The vines twisted around the Impala’s exhaust pipe, but recoiled with a hiss from the heat of the car. After that, they reared back and lashed at Sam, thwacking the Chevy and stinging his legs through his jeans.

On the other side of the rumbling Impala, Thorn’s thick strands wrapped around Dean’s waist and flung him into the trees before dragging him across the ground. “Could really use your help, Sammy! Any time you want to stop dancing and start fighting.”

“I’m trying, Dean. Nothing’s working.”

Dean hit the Impala’s hood with a thud. “I bet that ax would work.”

“This might be our only lead on finding Grant. Hell, it might even be Grant.”

“I don’t care if this is Captain Planet,” Dean growled. “You need to make like Paul Bunyan and chop this thing down.”

Thorn tossed Dean into the air like a child’s toy, and Sam turned his gaze toward the canopy. Along the tree line, massive lengths of vine thick as Sam’s arm writhed and wriggled, forming a wall that stretched higher and higher. Leaves and branches mingled overhead, blocking out more light with each passing second.

“We’re being closed in,” Sam yelled.

Dean flailed through the air, thrown toward the growing wall. Instead of smashing into the plants, he hung suspended upside-down from several strands.

Thorn stalked toward his prey, eyes lighting up the shade under the spreading canopy. “Sammy! No time for screwing around!”

Sam reached into the back seat. His fingers wrapped around the haft of the ax, then something yanked him from the car. Vines twisted around his wrists, shoulders, waist, and ankles, holding his thrashing form in the air. Another strand inched a path around Sam’s neck like a python.

With his wooden arm stretched toward Sam, his fingers splayed and flexing, Thorn grinned. Sam wheezed and struggled against the restraints but felt his strength failing.

A rushing sound like wind through feathers filled the clearing, and a bright-eyed man in a long tan trenchcoat stood beside Sam. He surveyed the scene with disinterested curiosity, like someone watching clouds roll past. “Hello, Sam,” Castiel said in monotone.

“Cas,” Sam gasped. “Thorn.” He tried to say more, to explain the situation to the angel who often assisted the Winchesters. But his chest burned, clinging to what little breath remained in his lungs.

“Dean doesn’t appear to be winning,” Castiel said. “Then again, a spriggan by nature is imbued with inhuman strength.” His face lit up with a grin. “I think I made a joke, Sam. ‘A spriggan. By nature.'” He chuckled to himself.

Sam gritted his teeth and fought against the vine around his throat if for no other reason than to unleash a stream of profanity at the angel.

With considerable effort, Castiel snapped the vine around Sam’s neck. “You need air to breathe, Sam. You shouldn’t have let it choke you like that.”

“Great idea, Cas. I’ll try to remember that for next time.” But Castiel’s comment sparked a thought in Sam’s mind. When he rummaged through the trunk, the vines recoiled each time they drew near the exhaust pipe of the old Impala’s grumbling engine.

Across the clearing, Thorn raked Dean’s chest with his claws, and Dean bellowed in pain.

Sam fought the vines holding him to no avail. “Cas,” he called, “you’ve got to help Dean. Get in the car and floor the gas pedal.”

The angel furrowed his brow in hesitation, then strode toward the driver’s side door and slipped into the Impala.

Sam listened, waiting for the engine to rise in pitch. But nothing happened.

Castiel appeared in the passenger side window. “Which one is the gas pedal?”

“The long one!”

Another quiet moment passed. The Impala’s brake lights shone bright red, illuminating the darkened enclosure Thorn built.

“The other long one,” Sam shouted. “The vertical pedal.”

Dean’s Baby roared with fury, a deep growl of a beast restrained, fighting against its bonds. Smoke poured from the exhaust, and Thorn whirled toward the car at the sudden noise.

The vines holding it shuddered as the engine revved several times. Sam’s nostrils filled with the harsh odor of burning oil and raging horsepower. He coughed and his eyes watered, but he managed a shout. “Keep going, Cas!”

Thorn grasped and scratched at the Impala as if to tear its engine to pieces. His eyes flared with anger, and he emitted a keening wail that rippled through the entire canopy.

Sam’s mind swam in the fumes. Everything became hazy, and he felt himself floating, drifting toward sleep. If this didn’t work, he decided, carbon monoxide poisoning wasn’t a bad way to go.

Sunlight broke through the darkness overhead. Here and there, the canopy opened. Then the whole structure retreated, withering vines pulling away from each other. Thorn stumbled like a drunk through the clearing, headed further up the path toward the ritual site Dean and Sam sought.

The Impala’s tires spun, throwing clods of dirt several feet, then the engine cut to idle. Freed from Thorn’s grasp, Dean and Sam collapsed to the ground, both gasping for breath. Castiel exited the car and rushed to Dean’s side.

Sam rose on weary legs and took deep, fresh breaths of Colorado air.

—-

To be continued in one last segment next week… and hopefully I’ll pay more attention to the genre and word count.

A Stolen Moment

A few days every week, one to three of my older kids participate in a youth program on base. When I’m off, it’s a great excuse for me to park my butt at the nearby coffee shop and write. After all, I’m trying to finish off the draft of my NaNoWriMo project (50K words wasn’t enough for the story I had planned), and then I have fantasy book 2 to write…

Sometimes it feels like a constant “should” hanging over my head. I could be writing. I want to write more. I need to finish the next book, and the next one, and the one after that. I don’t want to waste my time flipping through Facebook and tapping through Twitter.

And yet, when I parked at the coffee shop yesterday, I noticed once again the stone benches placed between several banyan trees. I saw the sun shining through the clouds and the leaves. I heard the birds chirping out their warnings. I paused to sit and enjoy the moment, and then I tried to capture it in my journal.

On that page, I wrote these words, hoping to immortalize the memory for myself if no one else, and the moment of contemplation got me thinking about how many times I’ve passed that spot without stopping.

The things we want don’t come because we wish for them; they come because we work for them.

I recorded my thoughts and a reading of the text in my journal on YouTube here:

Here’s the text of my notes, in case the wind got in the way.

The branches and sections of trunk tangled and wound together like a four-year-old’s shoelaces…

roots like elephant trunks curling this way and that between octopus tentacles that poke through the waves of green grassy seas…

birds on all sides, singing the same few notes over and over, like someone with a song stuck in her head who can only remember one or two lines…

warm sunbeams cast long, cool shadows, and ants march across my pencil case in search of something edible…

cars drive by, carrying men and women on other business who will forever be oblivious to THIS moment, THIS time and space…

and I do not judge, for so often I have been likewise blind by necessity or obligation, forced to focus my attention on some other task, marching like these ants toward an unspecified but presumed-important goal…

All of us are pulled and twisted in many directions like the trunks and branches of these trees; all of us are motivated by unavoidable consequence to avoid “wasted” team and move with purpose to the next task…

But can I be cautious and conscious, careful to find here and there in life a moment and space like this?

Can I pause and be still, and listen to the world?

Though pulled and twisted by demands, can I sit like a tree, elegant in the pose like a dancer stretching upward?

Thorn – a fanfic #BlogBattle entry

This week’s BlogBattle genre is fan-fiction, with the word thorn as the prompt.

Normally, I avoid writing fanfic, and I rarely read any. But I can understand the love people have for various characters, and I’ve seen a few really touching examples where someone captures the essence of a show, movie, or book. That said, I found myself surprisingly excited to give it a go for the contest, and it was cool to try. 

Since the first time I ever heard of fan-fiction was related to the TV show Supernatural, I decided to go with the Winchesters as my fanfic victims. And thanks to Rachael posting the rest of January’s words and genres, this is going to be a three-part story.

“That map’s no good this far out, Sammy,” Dean said, his hands firm on the steering wheel of his Baby. The black Impala tore down the backwoods road, engine pounding out a warning to the creatures ahead: the Winchester boys are coming.

“I know where we are,” Sam replied, his lips pursed in frustration. “Just trying to figure out where this Vale might be.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “No doubt it’s in a calm little clearing,” he mocked, “a circle of trees and thick grass with flowers and fairies and soft music playing in the background. Come on, Sammy. Crowley sent us here, so you know we’re steppin’ into a trap.”

Earlier that week, over shots in a bar, the Prince of Hell had tipped them off to the presence of something unnatural in the woods near Boulder, Colorado. “Couple of your dad’s old friends up that way,” he said with a slight smirk. “Good chaps. The lady’s from my side of the pond. Had a couple run-ins with ’em in the distant past–came away impressed.”

Sure enough, once Sam knew where to look, the news stories and search hits shone like a beacon. Hikers attacked, abandoned campsites, talk of evil woods and trees walking about like men. A bloody body turned up a month ago, and two others last week.

Sam folded up the map and tossed it in the back, then pulled out an old leatherbound notebook.”Dad’s journals say these folk stand guard over a site of power, something tied to capital-N Nature. Listen to this. He wrote that ‘they’ve been Hunters since before most folk knew what Hunting was.’ Everything he wrote sounds so… in awe of this couple. Wonder what they did to earn that kind of reverence.”

Dean curled his lip in a dismissive sneer. “Yeah? We’re about to find out.” He tapped the brakes and slowed as they approached a mailbox with McSwain stenciled on the side. “Here’s their cabin.”

He cut the ignition and exited the car, then checked the revolver in his belt and surveyed the treeline with narrowed eyes. Sam slipped his father’s journal into his jacket pocket as he stepped out of the car. “Sure this is the place, Dean?”

The shack looked run-down, barely holding together. A rusty car sat in the garage, unused for years based on the dust and grime. An old woman rocked on the porch, with the black metal of a rifle leaning on her shoulder. She sang in a soft tone that carried through the yard.

The Thorn lies in jail in the Dwimmerdim Dale
,

But ‘neath the moon pale, the Thorn will prevail,

And draw out the blood of the bad and the good.

So come all ye fae, ye hearty and hale
,

Lest Thorn grow to choke all the life in the vale

At the sight of the boys, she leveled the gun their way. “You can keep on that side of the fence, Sasquatch,” she told Sam, “at least until I know what you’re about.”

Dean flashed a fake badge. “Teagan McSwain? Wildlife Protection Agency. This is Agent Irwin, and I’m Agent Grylls. We came on account of some stories in the news–”

The woman raised the gun to her shoulder and took aim. “Go back the way you came,” she said, her voice rough. “Nothing for your kind to handle here.”

Sam reached out with open hands, reassuring. “Ma’am, look, truth is our dad said he knew you and your husband, Grant. He was a Hunter, and–well, it kind of runs in the family. His name’s John, John Winchester?”

The gun quivered in her arms, and then she sprang to her feet with a smile. “Oh my swait Jaysis,” she said, an Irish lilt creeping into her voice. “Come in! How’s little Jonny-boy?”

As they passed through the gate, Sam and Dean traded confused looks, and Dean mouthed the name in silence. “Uh, sorry to say he passed a few years ago.”

“Well, damn. Coulda used him.” Her eyes grew hard, and her jaw clenched. “My husband’s missing in the woods, gone several days now. Went to find the source of the tales you mentioned, but never came back.”

Dean glowered at the woods, and Sam knelt down beside the aged woman. “Where did he go, ma’am?”

“He meant to find the source of this corruption, headed toward the vale up the road. It’s an ancient ritual site of the Chickasaw tribe, a natural shrine of sorts.”

Dean balled his fists at his waist. “We’ll do what we can, ma’am. Can you point us the way?”

Within moments, the Impala rumbled along the narrow trail, its engine making easy work of the rough climb.

“She’s pretty far gone,” Dean said. “For all we know, her husband’s long dead. I wouldn’t get my hopes up for this one, Sammy.”

“Seems like a nice enough lady. And dad’s notes–”

Dean scoffed and flexed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Dad wrote down a lot of things that don’t make a whole lot of sense until it’s too late.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What’ve we got to deal with natural aberrations?”

“Other than a box of hollowpoints and some shotgun shells,” Dean said, “not a hell of a lot. Should be an ax in the trunk if some trees get feisty.”

The Impala lurched to an abrupt stop. Dean’s forehead bounced off the wheel and Sam’s neck whipped his head forward before snapping back into the seat.

“The hell did you hit, Dean?”

“Nothing!”

Dean floored the accelerator. The engine whined, but the car merely shuddered, immobile. Thick, twisted vines stretched and spread across the Impala’s hood. Sam peered out the window at the front tire, then the back. “More vines, wrapping up the tires like a spider web of plants.”

A figure shaped like a man covered in wood strode from the treeline. Its eyes glowed vibrant green, and the same energy shone from the wide grin splitting its face.

Sam glared at Dean. “You just had to talk about cutting down trees…”

“Uh, Sammy? I think we found Thorn.”

Literary Karaoke