Wednesday, June 12, 2019

falling stars

1 ~ Brave
2 ~ The Storm
3 ~ The River
4 ~ A Memory of Flowers
5 ~ Healing ... Not
6 ~ Time
7 ~ Reflections
8 ~ Grappling with the Truth
9 ~ Buttercup
10 ~ Becoming

     Cierra picked her way between the trees in the dark mostly by feel, and using the light of the moon whenever the clouds cleared.  The sound of the loon on the lake was beginning to get on her nerves and she had visions of old horror movies set in summer camps.  She was always the one who covered her eyes during the scary parts and screamed "No, no, what are you thinking?!?! Don't go into the woods alone!!!! The killer is hiding behind that tree!!!"  Now here she was doing everything she screamed about at the movies.

     She wished she was back at home, sleeping in her own bed and would wake up to find this had all been a nightmare.  She couldn't believe she had thought this would be a good idea, especially at night, in a snow storm.  It would be summer by the time they found her corpse, frozen against a tree at the edge of the lake, her fingers chewed off by hungry chipmunks, her eyes pecked out by starving woodpeckers, and her lips and nose eaten by rabid porcupines.

     Cierra stopped next to a large pine as the sound of a branch breaking near her startled her out of her fear fed imaginings.
~*~
     Riku stood at the sound and turned towards the woods.  It was pitch black as the clouds had moved in front of the moon again.  He wanted it to be Cierra.  He wanted to believe she had not forgotten him.

     The loon had suddenly become silent.  A silence that was unnerving.

     Taking a quiet step backwards, Riku reached for a piece of burnt, broken wood from last summer's campfire.  He didn't have anything to light it, but it had occurred to him that the bears would be just waking up from their hibernation.  Still groggy sows could possibly have cubs with them, and would be aggressively protective.  He wondered if trying to find some place to get undercover would be a good idea, but then he didn't want to look like a frightened child if it was Cierra.
~*~
     Cierra closed her eyes, trying to keep her composure and not scream in the darkness.  She felt foolish.  Terrified and foolish.  She was a grown woman, not a 15 year-old girl.  Trying to think of something less frightening to calm herself, Cierra thought back to the first time she and Riku held hands.
~*~
     They had been kayaking on the lake and as the sun began to dip lower in the sky, they stopped to watch the swallows zig-zagging over the lake catching bugs.  Riku reached over to pull her kayak closer to his when the wind momentarily picked up and pushed her away, and as she reached out to grab his kayak, their hands met in the middle.  Neither of them said anything, nor did they let go.  They watched as the sky faded to black, the Milky Way and falling stars lighting up the night, and for just a moment they felt like there was no one else in the universe except them.

     In the years since that night, they had taken many voyages together, both on and over the water.  But it was that night when they held hands in the dark that Cierra had given him her heart.  When she got back to her cabin, she had pulled her diary out from under her bunk mattress where she had hidden it and in large bold letters she put the date on the top of a clean page and wrote...
TONIGHT I MET MY SAMURAI
~*~
     Separated by darkness, not knowing that the other was out there, both of them were frozen in place as the sound of another branch breaking broke the silence.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

becoming...

1 ~ Brave
2 ~ The Storm
3 ~ The River
4 ~ A Memory of Flowers
5 ~ Healing ... Not
6 ~ Time
7 ~ Reflections
8 ~ Grappling with the Truth
9 ~ Buttercup

     Riku watched her from a corner booth on the far side of the coffee shop.  It had taken him nearly a month to get all of his paperwork and passport to cross the Canadian border, and another to make his way to Wisconsin.  A trucker had given him a ride all the way across Minnesota and he had been sitting in the coffee shop trying to decide what to do next when he saw her walk in.

     He watched as she ordered coffee and asked for a menu, trying to decide if approaching her now would be a good idea, or if she would completely freak out.  Just because she had left his voice on the answering machine didn't mean that she hadn't started to move on.  He didn't even know if she still used that phone number or not.  It could have been an old cell number that she never bothered to use anymore.

     She placed her order for soup and a sandwich then pulled out a phone and made a call to someone.  Riku listened to her laughter as she made plans to see a movie over the weekend with the person at the other end.  It didn't sound like she was grieving, or even missing him.  Maybe coming back from the dead right now was a bad idea.  Maybe she had moved on.

     He continued to watch and listen as she made other calls, laughing occasionally.  There had to be a way to know if she still thought of him.  When she asked for the check and got up to use the restroom, he knew what he had to do.
~*~
     Cierra stood on one leg and pushed the toilet lever gently with her other boot.  She didn't know how much longer she could shallow breathe without passing out.  As soon as she had walked into the ladies room she could smell the scented poison that occasionally spritzed out of a battery operated device mounted on the wall over the door.  Its fragrance was supposed to hide the underlying scent of seldom cleaned floors, bleach, old grease, and urine that the central air was pulling through the vents between the men's room next door and the kitchen on the other side.  Why hadn't she done what her mother always told her to do before ordering at a restaurant?

     "Trust me, Cierra.  Always use the ladies room immediately after you walk in before you even get a table and order at a restaurant.  If the bathroom is nasty, you can be sure the kitchen and oven are nasty too.  You'll save yourself a lot of discomforts if you do that every time you eat out."
~*~
     After paying for her meal, Riku walked out into the sunshine that was quickly being covered by dark snow clouds.  He saw a trucker heading toward the exit and quickly ran to ask if he could give him a ride just five miles down the highway.  The driver waved him in, and he ran around to the passenger door and climbed in.

     "Dang if it ain't getting cold out there!  You sure you just want me to drop you off at five miles?  Ain't nuthin' out there but forest roads."
     "Well, I'm actually going to a camp that's up another five miles into the forest."
     "The YCC camp up there on the Nicolet?"
     "Yes!  Are you familiar with it?"
     "Heck yeah!  Best summers of my childhood were spent there!  I'll take you all the way up there, it'll be great to see that place again.  Reach in back there and grab that eagle feather hanging on that leather strap and I'll tell you all about how I earned it my last summer there.  I was 14 years old and just a skinny lil' kid..."
~*~
     Cierra pushed forward in the snow up the road.  She had swerved onto the shoulder to miss the back end of a semi truck coming down that had been hogging most of the road.  He'd been trying to avoid getting sucked off the road since the recent rains and now the snow was making the shoulders soft and rotten.  Instead, Cierra had gotten sucked into the boggy shoulder.  The trucker hadn't even slowed down, and probably hadn't even realized she'd been run off the road.  Now she was walking the last mile, feeling more and more dubious and that she should just go back to the warmth of her truck cab and wait out the storm there. 
~*~
     It was dark in the campground when Riku got there.  In four months it would be filled with screaming and laughing kids, running everywhere until they finally ran out of steam.  He cleared a spot on top of one of the picnic benches, and sat down, watching the reflection of the moon on the lake, and listening to the mournful call of a loon.  The snow was lightly falling now as the sudden storm was moving off and sounds in the forest were still muffled.  He felt himself becoming the old Riku again as memories of his summers began flowing back again.  Summers.  Cierra.  University. Their wedding.  His family and friends.  As the memories came back, his tears started to fall and before he knew what was happening, he was wracked with hard sobs for all he had missed in the past eight years.

     Suddenly, he heard a branch break behind him.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Buttercup

Chapter 1 ~ Brave
Chapter 2 ~ The Storm
Chapter 3 ~ The River
Chapter 4 ~ A Memory of Flowers
Chapter 5 ~ Healing ... Not
Chapter 6 ~ Time
Chapter 7 ~ Reflections

     Cierra's sobs worried Buttercup.  She knew that sometimes Cierra cried out in her sleep for someone named Riku, but she had never cried like this before.  As she rested her head on Cierra's lap to comfort her, she focused all of her thoughts on sending her love.  Gradually she felt Cierra relax.

     When she lay down next to her and wrapped her arm around her, Buttercup felt her breathing begin to slow until she knew Cierra was asleep.  She let herself relax as well and soon they were breathing in sync with each other.

     It was the birds that woke Buttercup before the sun came up.  She eased herself out from under Cierra's arm and off the sofa.  Padding quietly, she went to the mudroom's outer door that had a doggy door in it, allowing her into the fenced back yard for her to relieve herself.

     As she had every morning since she had come to live with Cierra, she watched the sun come up.  In the eight years she had lived in the shelter since being born, she had never seen the sun come up or set.  She'd heard birds, but had never seen one and had never heard as many as she did since she was rescued by Cierra.  Even after four years, each day still amazed her.  The crisp crunch of fall leaves as she ran through a pile that Cierra had just raked up.  Warming herself later by the bonfire, sitting together on an extra large pallet bench.  Watching the snowfall for the first time.  Riding in a boat and seeing fish.  Smelling all the fascinating scents of other animals in the woods.  All of these were new experiences to Buttercup that she treasured.

     Cierra always talked to her as if she was a person.  Explaining to her the names of the animals when pointing out a new track in the mud or snow or mud that she found, feathers, or a shed antler.  They went everywhere together, even sometimes to work when Cierra would be in the office.

     She'd been lonely in the shelter after her mother and siblings had all been adopted.  Isolated in a kennel by herself as most dogs were, she also often cried herself to sleep, missing her family.  Sometimes she had old towels and blankets to sleep on, but the concrete was still cold in the winters.  Now she stretched out next to Cierra on the bed or sofa every night, feeling connected to her.  They made their own pack now, the two of them.

     Buttercup sensed that there was something coming that would change both their lives, but she wasn't sure what it was.  She was tired, and some days it was so hard to wake up.  Her hips and legs hurt when she walked, and she couldn't see as well as she used to.  But she felt it was important for her to be with Cierra now.  Her time was coming, that she knew, but not yet.  Not now. 

     Cierra still needed her.

Grappling With the Truth ...

Chapter 1 ~ Brave
Chapter 2 ~ The Storm
Chapter 3 ~ The River
Chapter 4 ~ A Memory of Flowers
Chapter 5 ~ Healing ... Not
Chapter 6 ~ Time
Chapter 7 ~ Reflections

     Running out to the parking lot of the coffee shop, Riku saw a trucker climbing into the cab of his semi.  It had plates on it from Washington State.  He tapped on the window.

     "Hi, My name is Riku and I was wondering if you were heading back to Washington?"
     "Look, man, I'm not in the smuggling business.  I run a legit truck, and I'm not about to change that."
     "Actually, I just need to get a ride to the border so I can talk to the officials there, or even if there is a US Embassy somewhere between here and there.  It's a long story and I just remembered most of it.  I've been missing for about eight years after falling in a river on my 8th anniversary when my wife and I were hiking and I'm just trying to get back to her."
     "No lie?  You don't look like someone who's been living with the wolves and bears for eight years."
     "No lie.  Some members of one of the First Nations fished me out of the river before I drowned.  I had broken both my legs and smashed my head up pretty bad on some rocks and ...."
     "Climb in, you can tell me all about it on the ride.  Just know I carry a gun and if you try and hijack me, this wife you just remembered can consider herself a widow for real."
     "Trust me, I have no intention of making that happen."
~*~
     "Look, Jane, I appreciate your solicitude but I don't see why you won't just drop it."
     "Cierra, it has been almost eight years since Riku disappeared.  I just think that maybe it is time to have him declared dead so you can collect the life insurance money and get on with your life."
     "Why?  Why is that so important to you?"
     "I've just seen the way some of the fire techs look at you and think that spending so much time alone isn't good for you.  Rumors are running rampant that it's time for you to stick your toes back into the dating game."
      "You know it's bad form to be gossiping about someone who is supposedly your best friend.  But I'm not buying it.  Why do you really want me to declare him dead?"
      "I know how hard it has been for you, Cierra.  Always expecting someone to come knocking at your door telling you his body has been found.  Hoping against everything that he will be the one knocking instead.  I also know how hard you have been struggling financially to keep this house and property on just your income alone.  The life insurance money could help you, Cierra.  I know there are repairs and upgrades that you've been putting off.  This house is 150 years old, and it's time you brought it into the 21st century.  Or considered selling it.  I'm just saying that you need to start thinking about your future"
     "I think it's time you leave, Jane.  I'm not discussing this with you any further, and I would appreciate it if you would stop discussing me and my life with everyone you know.  I value your friendship, Jane, but if you want to remain friends with me we need to have some new boundaries.  I think it would be best if we just kept our friendship on a professional level from now on."
~*~
     Riku sat in the border patrol office watching a clock on the wall tick off the seconds.  He'd been there now for six hours, waiting for someone to verify his identity by his fingerprints and issue him a new passport and identity papers so that he could leave Canada.

     It had taken the trucker two days to get him that far, and during that time the two men had become friends.  Riku was grateful to him for the ride, but after spending so much time walking and hiking during the previous eight years, he couldn't understand why someone would want to choose a life spent on the road.  His backside felt as if someone was using it as a pincushion, and sitting in the hard chair for the past six hours hadn't helped.

     After listening to his story and verifying some of it with news reports, the border patrol officers had offered to put him up in a local hotel so he could get some rest and a shower while waiting for his fingerprints to be confirmed.  But Riku was anxious to get across the border and on his way to Wisconsin and didn't want to risk having to wait another day if he wasn't there when the results came back.
~*~
     For hours after Jane left, Cierra sat on the sofa with Buttercup and watched as the sun slowly went down.  When there was no longer any light left in the sky, she continued to sit in the dark.  Gradually, then in a flood, the tears came.  Buttercup whined and put her head on Cierra's lap.  As she slowly stroked the gentle senior dog's head, her sobs subsided.  Stretching out on the sofa next to Buttercup, Cierra wrapped her arm around her and fell asleep.

     The next morning, Cierra woke to a silence that confused her.  As she watched a ladybug crawl across the inside of the window pane, it dawned on her what was missing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

reflections

     Ironically, the flyer with Riku's face on it was the last in existence.  Eight years was a long time to be missing without being declared dead, but Cierra had refused to concede that he was gone.  Over time, all of the hundreds of flyers she had printed, posted and distributed had been thrown away, faded by the sun until they were illegible or disintegrated by the weather.  The mere fact that he had ever seen that one was nothing short of a miracle.

     There were a phone number and the name of a woman on the flyer.  Riku pulled it off the board and shoved it in his jeans pocket.  After dropping the postcard into the mail he asked the clerk where the nearest pay phone was.

     Leaving the post office, he went to the coffee shop down the street where the clerk had told him he would find the pay phone.  His heart was pounding.  Seeing his face and the name on the flyer brought back the memory of who he was.  But the woman's name was still unfamiliar.  Was she someone important to him?  A colleague?  Family?  The flyer said he had been missing for over eight years after falling into the river.  Were they still looking for him or had they given up?

     He debated whether or not to call the woman whose number was on the flyer.  Surely she'd moved on with her life by now.  Finally, he gave in to his curiosity to know if she was the woman in his dreams and dialed her number.  It went straight to voicemail.
[Laughter]
"This is Riku."
"And this is Cierra.  If you know us..."
[Riku] "Then you know we're out in the woods somewhere."
[Cierra] "Leave us a message and we'll call you as soon as we get back."
     Riku was so stunned to hear his own voice that he dropped the receiver.  As he picked it up, he heard the voicemail beep for a message and he quickly hung up.  He called back three more times just to hear her voice again, and suddenly, as if a flip had switched, his memories began to flood back.  He was overwhelmed with the feeling as if he was finding a treasure trove of lost days.

     He sat back down again at his table, reflecting on everything he felt, remembered, and heard.  She had left his voice on the message, so maybe she hadn't moved on without him in her life.  He wondered if she had stayed in the home they had shared, or if she had moved.  Certainly, she would have declared him dead after all this time so she could collect on his life insurance.  But then why leave his voice on the message?

     As he sat there, overwhelmed with emotion, he suddenly felt a warm touch on his arm.  He glanced up to the seat across the table from him, and for just a moment he thought he saw his grandmother sitting there.

     "祖母。"[Grandmother?]

     "家に帰る、リク、時間だ皆があなたを逃しました。 大好きです。 いつもあなたと一緒です" [Go home, Riku, it is time. We have all missed you.  I love you so much.  I'll always be with you, grandson.]

     His hand grew cold again, and he sat back in his seat, stunned by the spectral visit.  His eyes welled with tears at the implication of the visit and before he could lose his composure, he pulled a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet to cover the cost of his coffee and fled into the parking lot.
~*~
     Cierra stepped into the mudroom at the back of their home, exhausted from the day's work planting seedlings to replace trees that had been lost in a fire the previous fall.  Stripping off her damp and muddy clothes, she quickly stepped into the shower.  The hot water felt good on her sore and aching muscles.  Something cold touched her calf and she jumped before realizing it was her dog.  Turning the water off, she quickly dried and slipped on a kimono she used as a dressing gown.  It had been a wedding gift from Riku's grandmother, and she felt closer to both of them whenever she wore it.

     "Buttercup, you nearly gave me a heart attack!  I know I've been gone all day, I'm sorry.  Let me get something for both of us to eat for dinner and I'll sit down and tell you all about it."

     She had adopted Buttercup four years earlier after seeing her on an early morning talk show that shared the story of several older dogs, and even some younger dogs with chronic illnesses that had spent their entire lives in a shelter.  Buttercup had been born in the shelter on the same day that Riku and Cierra had gotten married in Japan.  

     While she had been the most playful of her siblings, she had been overlooked time and time again because she had been born with only her left eye.  Where her right eye should have been, the skin was smooth since she didn't even have an eye socket there.  Her mother had been a beagle, and her father had been a fence jumper.  No one really knew what breed he had been except that he must have had a yellow coat since all of the puppies had one or two yellow spots along with the typical black and brown ones.  Buttercup's yellow spot was where her right eye would have been, shaped like a buttercup flower, hence the name the shelter volunteers had given her.

     Now twelve years old, her playfulness had become limited to gentle games of tug-a-war with Cierra's favorite slippers and hide-the-treat-and-seek.  She spent her days stretching out on an old sofa in the front room where she could watch birds, growl at squirrels and chipmunks, and thump her tail whenever someone waved at her from a passing car.

     Grabbing a container of hummus and crackers for herself, and a bowl of canned organic food for Buttercup, Cierra joined her on the sofa where they usually relaxed in the evenings after she got home from work.  She pulled her cellphone out of her pocket to check for messages and was surprised to see that her phone was completely dead.  She'd forgotten to charge it the night before but had thought that there were enough bars to get through the day.  Now she would have to wait until later to see if anyone had called.

     Buttercup growled as a chipmunk ran along the window ledge, and Cierra chuckled.  "Relax sweetie, he's out there and you're in here.  And I doubt very much that you are eating anything that he wants right now.  He's looking to stash the sunflower seeds that dropped when I was filling the feeders this morning.  See how fat his little cheeks are?"  Buttercup thumped her tail and continued to eat her dinner.

     "So tell me how your day went?  I'm sure it was much better than mine.  This morning we had our monthly safety meeting with a lot of boring technical information about the new stewardship program.  I should have had that 2nd mug of coffee on the way to work because Jane had to kick me under the table twice to wake me up.  Then we went out into the parking lot to practice wildfire safety procedures.  By the time I was able to get out to the field to start planting seedlings with the volunteers, I was ready for a nap.  But you were probably taking that for me, weren't you?"

     Buttercup thumped her tail and grinned at Cierra, a piece of carrot stuck to her lip.  Cierra laughed out loud, making Buttercup grin even more.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

time ...

     Time passed for both Riku and Cierra.

     For Cierra, it crept along slowly.  Each day dragged longer than the previous one.  Summers were especially hard.  She would spend two weeks searching the river where Riku had been lost, marking her progress on a map, alternating from one bank to the other each year.  Since nothing else had ever been found, clothing or bones, a part of Cierra held on to the hope that somehow he had survived.  Although if he had, she couldn't understand why he hadn't come home.

     At night, she always dreamed of searching for him, seeing him in the distance and struggling to reach him.  Some nights he was in the river, and she would be swimming after him, or running along the river bank calling his name.  Others, she would see him standing in a field and no matter how fast she ran towards him, she was never able to reach him even though he wasn't moving.

     One night she dreamt of him sitting beside a campfire with several other people.  She was across the fire from him, but frozen in place and unable to move or speak.  She could hear his voice, his laughter, and watched as the light from the fire reflected in his eyes when he smiled.  He looked strong, muscled as if he had been working out and lifting weights.  Cierra felt the heat from the fire and could smell the wood burning.  Somewhere out of view, she could smell meat cooking and her stomach growled as she salivated.

     When she woke, the dream stayed on her mind for more than a month.  It was the most realistic dream she had ever had in her life.  She continued to smell the wood smoke for several days afterward.  Cierra wasn't a believer in out-of-body experiences, but she thought to herself that if she had been, it probably would have been just like her dream.
~*~
    The opposite had been true for Riku.  Weeks passed as quickly as days, and months seemed to vanish.  When he realized he had been with the tribe for nine years he was astounded.  Had it really been that long?  He felt a sense of urgency in everything he did, and a pull to leave but he didn't know where he was supposed to go.  The tribe had welcomed him as if he had always been one of their own, but he sometimes felt like an outsider looking in.

     The blond haired woman haunted his dreams, as did the flowers.  Some nights he dreamed of being in the river, but he knew that was more of a memory than a random dream.  He wondered if the blond haired woman was also from the part of his memories that still eluded him.

     As time had sped by, bits and pieces of his memory would also reappear.  He knew now that he had a Ph.D. in botany, but couldn't remember what university he had attended.  He remembered working with trees but didn't know for whom.  Riku also remembered having family in Japan, and friends in Wisconsin, but couldn't remember names or exactly where.

     One October night as he sat around a bonfire talking and laughing with several of the elders, Riku had glanced up and through the flames, he thought he had seen the blond haired woman staring at him from the other side of the fire.  A log suddenly popped in the fire and sparks flew up.  When the flames dropped back, the vision of the woman was gone, but the image of her face stayed with him.  He knew her.  Intimately.  Of that he was certain.  He knew then that wherever she was, that was where he was supposed to be.

     The following spring he packed his belongings and said goodbye to the people who had rescued and adopted him.  He hitched a ride to Prince Rupert and from there he planned to make his way to the United States.  Stopping into the local post office to mail a postcard to Howard and Margaret letting them know he had made it there and would be leaving in two days for Vancouver, he had glanced up at a faded flyer thumbtacked to the bulletin and stopped in his tracks.

     He was staring at his own face.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

healing ... not

      It was two months before Riku could walk with the assistance of a cane that one of the tribal members had carved for him.  While his legs were recovering, James helped him to relearn English and a little bit of the Da'naxda'xw and Awaetlala tribes' history.  By the time he had been with the tribe for six months, he was able to walk with only a slight limp.  His body had healed, and bits and pieces of his memory had returned, but his spirit and the memory of Cierra and his name had not.

     The village was self-sufficient, and apart from students occasionally traveling to a larger city for a school function, or an elder going to speak to politicians on the tribe's behalf, there were very few members of the tribe that Riku interacted with that actually left small Harbledown Island.

     Over the next five years, Riku stayed with the tribe and began helping their gardeners increase their harvest with a knowledge of plants that he could not explain.  His normally slim frame that had lost weight while he was unconscious, filled out with muscles that were seldom used when he had been sitting behind a microscope and desk.  Now, he chopped wood, dug ditches for irrigation as he increased the size of the tribe's farms, and worked the land.

     During the summer months when he wasn't planting or harvesting, he hiked up-river to the point where he had been found, the memory of a woman with blond hair and flowers tugging at him.
     
~*~
     Cierra had hiked almost non-stop for almost three days to get back to the trailhead.  As much as possible, she had followed the river, hoping and praying that she would find Riku along the way.  When she got to their rental vehicle, she drove immediately to the first town she found.

     A search was started, but at that point in time, there was little hope from the authorities of finding Riku alive.  They knew that someone would begin to suffer from the effects of hypothermia if they were in the water for too long, and while Cierra clung to the belief he was still alive, the search and rescue quickly became a search and recovery.

     Riku's family flew in from Japan to help with the search, as well as all their friends and Cierra's family.  Even his beloved Sōsobo made the trip and while she was too frail to hike the trails, she cooked and prayed for all of the searchers and Riku.

     Finally, after two weeks the official search was called off.  Cierra was inconsolable and refused to believe he was really gone.  She took a leave of absence from work and spent almost three months searching for Riku until the first snow fell.  At every village, town, and city she came to, she passed out flyers with his picture on them and asked the local law enforcement officials to share with their officers and post on all missing person boards.

     Back in Japan,  Sōsobo continued to pray but withdrew into herself.  Within a year she had died, her heart broken by the loss of her grandson.

     Two years after Riku disappeared into the river, a hunter found his backpack wedged in some rocks at the river's edge.  Finding an address on the inside flap of the pack, the hunter boxed it up and shipped it off.  When it arrived at Cierra's door a month later, she finally gave in and allowed herself to grieve over the possibility that he may not have survived.  She wrote to the hunter and asked if he had kept the coordinates of where he found the pack, and he had.  That summer, Cierra and Riku's childhood friends hiked to the area where the pack was found and began a new search, this time looking for any remains they could bury to have closure. 

     While she didn't speak of it to anyone, Cierra still held on to the belief that Riku was alive.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

a memory of flowers

Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination. This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts.
     "Ah, the River Warrior awakes!  Perhaps now he can introduce himself to us?"

     Riku looked up at the shadow that was speaking to him, and shook his head slightly.  "いいえ、分かりません"  [I don't understand.]

     Loud bawdy laughter from behind him filled the room.  "Well, that just figures.  You catch a River Warrior and he don't speak English!"

     "Hush old woman!  Head injuries can be insidious.  We have no idea where he came from or how long he was in the river.  He could have fallen off a fishing boat somewhere and been washed in with a storm."

     "He ain't no iceberg so I doubt that.  More likely he was caught in some outgoing tide during the storm and got washed back in the river.  What was he speaking?  Didn't sound like Inuit."

     "It wasn't.  I think it might be Japanese.  Didn't one of the high school kids spend a semester as an exchange student in Japan?  Who was that?  He doesn't have hands like someone who has worked as a laborer on a fishing trawler.  He looks more like someone who sat behind a desk his whole life.  I wonder what he was doing out here?"

     "I'll go see if I can find out and get him over here."

     Riku watched the conversation between the old woman and an equally old man, not understanding a word the two of them were saying.  His head hurt, in fact, his whole body hurt, but at least he could move both of his arms, and his legs no longer felt like they were restrained.  When the old woman left, he watched the man as he continued to talk and move about the room.

     "You sure had us worried, River Warrior.  Not many survive in that river, especially someone who had your injuries.  Both of your legs were broken in two places.  You must have hit a boulder in the river pretty hard to do that.  We had to set one of your legs twice.  You're lucky my wife is the tribe's doctor and had some young men to hold you down and help her.  You put up a good fight even being unconscious."

     The man glanced at Riku.  "You don't understand anything I'm saying, do you?"

     Riku just looked at him, and finally shook his head, repeating what he had said before,  "いいえ、分かりません"

     The old woman finally returned with a young man, and motioned to Riku on the bed.  "Tell him what I told you to tell him."

     Giving a polite bow to Riku, the young man began.  "私の名前はジェームスです。 私はここの署長の息子だ。 あなたの名前は何ですか。"  [My name is James.  I am the son of the chief here.  What is your name?]

     Riku looked at him, then down at his hands before lifting his head and shaking it.  "私は私の名前が何であるかわからない。 思い出せない。"  [I do not know what my name is.  I cannot remember.]

     James relayed his response to the old man and woman, then motioned to them.  "これは、私たちの長老の一人であり、彼の妻マーガレット、私たちの部族の医師であるハワードです。"  [This is Howard, one of our Elders, and his wife, Margaret, who is our tribal doctor.]

     He continued, "私たちがあなたを見つけたとき、あなたは2本の折れた脚、脱臼した肩、折れた手首、いくつかのひび割れた肋骨、頭部外傷を持っていました。 私たちがあなたを見つけたとき、あなたは非常に幸運でした。 溺れてしまった" [When we found you, you had two broken legs, a dislocated shoulder, broken wrist, some cracked ribs, and a head injury.  You were very lucky we found you when we did.  You almost drowned.]
      "どのようにして川に来たか覚えていますか" [Do you remember how you came to be in the river?]

     Riku looked thoughtful for a moment before he finally responded.

     "私が覚えているのは、花と金髪の女性です。 それ以上ではない" [All I remember are flowers and a woman with blonde hair.  Nothing more.]

The River

     Riku felt himself slipping and locked eyes with Cierra as he reached for her. Their fingertips touched briefly, then he was falling backwards. He fell for what seemed like an eternity before his breath was taken away by the icy cold of the river.

     When he surfaced again, gasping for air, he couldn't see Cierra on the cliffs above him.  The fast moving river had already carried him a half a mile downriver from where he fell.  He tried to relax and float on his back in the middle of the river as it carried him away, knowing that if he fought the current he would exhaust himself and be less likely to survive.

     Heavy with water, his backpack began to pull him under, and reluctantly Riku took it off his back. He tried to hold onto it, knowing that should he be able to reach the riverbank, his survival could depend on his gear within it.  But it became harder and harder to hold onto it without being pulled under the water as he was swept into the deeper part of the river.  Finally he was forced to let it go.

     He tried to watch for an eddy pool near some rocks that would be easier to swim to, but before he could turn so that his feet were facing downstream, his head hit a rock just under the surface and he was knocked unconscious.
~*~
Image Source: WeHeartIt.com
     Kermode watched as the dark shape swirled in the eddy pool closer and closer to him.  What was this thing?  It was scaring away the salmon, and he was very hungry.

     He batted at it, moving it out of the pool and closer to the rapids. The shape moved and groaned.  Kermode jumped back, startled.  Perhaps it would be best if he fished elsewhere, especially since the salmon had also been startled away.  Upriver might be best until the thing moved farther away.

     He lumbered up the edge of the river, looking over his should occasionally as the thing drifted into the rapids again and downriver.
~*~
      Riku vaguely felt hands pulling on him, dragging him to the riverbank.  As he was pulled to dry land pain from his legs and left arm shot through his body and he screamed before passing out again.
~*~
     The next time he woke, it was dark and while he sensed he was in some kind of bed wrapped in a thick blanket, he didn't have any idea where he was.  He tried to call out, but only a hoarse whisper came out.  He tried to move, but his legs felt like they were strapped down, and when he moved his arm to push himself up, the pain came in waves and he lost consciousness.
~*~
     The sunlight streaming into the room hurt his eyes beneath his lids, and he tried to turn his face away from the light.  A rough hand grabbed his chin and pulled him back again, forcing his lips open, and he tasted a foul liquid being forced down his throat.  He choked and coughed, and the pain in his chest from what was probably a cracked rib or two took his breath away.

     He heard voices, but couldn't understand what they were saying, and he tried to fight off the person holding his head still with his one arm that didn't hurt.  Another pair of hands grabbed his arm and restrained him.  More of the foul liquid was forced down his throat again, and as he struggled against the hands holding him down, the room and light faded away again.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Storm

Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination. This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts.
     She'd been eating at the small restaurant after shopping all morning for Easter gifts for her nieces and nephews when she overheard that there was a blizzard moving in.  It was April, and the robins had even arrived, but local lore said that there was always one more snow storm that followed the robins.  She had lived in the Northwoods for several years now, and it seemed that the locals were abounding with some kind of quirky weather predictions associated with the snow.  "They should know," she thought as she watched the waitress sloppily refill her coffee mug.

     Glancing out the large window at the lake, she watched as storm clouds began rolling in from the Canada border.  She realized if she was going to get home before the snow started, she should leave soon.  Getting up from the table, she went to the ladies room, telling the waitress as she passed that she would pay the bill when she returned.

     Returning to her table a few minutes later, she was surprised to see a scribbled picture of a quince blossom on a napkin near the upside down bill the waitress had left for her on the table.  She glanced around the restaurant, but most of the other patrons had already left ahead of the coming storm and she was alone except for the waitress and cook.

     "Is there a problem?"

     Cierra jumped at the sound of the waitress's voice just behind her.

     "The man said that he was a friend of yours who wanted to surprise you by paying your bill."

     "I'm sorry.  What?"

     "Your bill.  It was paid by the man who left while you were in the ladies room."

     Cierra turned over the bill on the table.  It had a line through the total and was marked 'PAID' in red ink that almost matched the color of pencil used to draw the blossom.

     "Did he leave his name?  Did you see which way he went when he left?  What did he look like?"

     "Whoa, whoa, whoa!  What's with the 20 questions?  No, he didn't tell me his name, he just paid in cash with a hundred dollar bill and told me to keep the change, which I was more than happy to do on a $8.45 ticket.  Everyone was wanting to pay up and head out before the storm, so I really didn't have time to look at him or see where he went.  What's the big deal?  You the kind that looks a gift horse in the mouth?"

     Without answering, Cierra grabbed the napkin and rushed out the door to her car.

     Starting her car, she sat in the parking lot waiting for it to warm up, her mind filled with questions.  There was only one person in the world who would have known the significance of that blossom to her, and she hadn't seen him in almost ten years.  She hadn't thought of him in ... she looked at her watch ... two seconds?  And before that, there hadn't been an hour that passed that he hadn't crossed her mind somehow.  A song on the the radio, an image in a magazine or on television, a scent on the air ... everything reminded her of him.  But he was supposed to be dead.  Or at least, she thought he was.  She had seen him fall into the ravine, and while they had never recovered his body, there hadn't been any doubt in her mind that he must have died in the fall.  If he hadn't, then why hadn't he contacted her before now?  It didn't make any sense.

     If he was alive, and there, he could only be in one place.  The camp where they first met as teenagers.  It held the same significance to her as the blossom had, and was one of the reasons she had never left the area after she thought he had died.  She pulled out of the parking lot and turned down the road leading to the summer camp that they had attended over forty years before.  Cierra had drifted away from her faith after Riku had passed, and no longer knew where her spiritual hope rested, but as she drove she prayed that somehow he had survived the fall and by some miracle had come back to her.
~*~
     Excited teenagers boiled out of the old yellow school buses lined up in the dirt parking lot, and laughter filled the air as friends made the previous summers greeted each other again.  It was Cierra's first summer and she knew exactly one other person at camp ~ her younger brother whom she was loath to admit she was related to.  She wanted to make friends, and if there was anything that would prevent that, it would be him.  

     Dragging her duffle bag, she walked to the board that listed cabin assignments and began looking for her name.

     "Excuse me, please?"

     Cierra turned to look at the slight boy standing next to her with dark hair and eyes.

     "This word.  What does it say?"  he pointed to the name of a cabin that was located right next to the cabin she had just found her name under.

     "Awasajiw?  'Ah-wa-sa-jew'.  It is Ojibwa for beyond the mountain.  I'm in this cabin, Agidajiw.  'Ah-gid-da-jew'.  It means on top of a mountain."

     "You have been here before?"

     "No, this is my first summer here.  But I didn't want to sound stupid so I practiced all the cabin names before I came up."

     There was an awkward silence.

     "Oh my gosh.  I didn't mean to say you were stupid!  I just meant, I always sound stupid when I meet new people and .... Crud.  I'm doing it again.  I'm sorry.  You aren't stupid.  I am.  I'm such an idiot.  Let me start all over again.  Hi.  My name is Cierra Imadork."

     "Hello Cierra Imadork.  My name is Riku.  I am here as an exchange student from Japan."

     Cierra smiled.  "Imadork isn't really my last name.  I was just trying to say I am a dork for being so rude and making it sound like you were stupid for not knowing how to say the names of the cabins."

     "Oh."  Riku laughed, and from that moment on the two of them were best friends.

     One afternoon, Cierra found Riku in line at the small canteen store that the camp had.  His clothes were covered in dirt, and dried blood was still on his face from where his nose had been bleeding.

     "Riku!  What happened to you?!?!?"

     "Some boys they want my toothpaste.  I tell them I didn't have much left so they hit me."

     "Why didn't you throw some karate on them?"

     Riku laughed.  "Not everyone in Japan knows karate.  I wanted to get something to drink to get the taste of sand out of my mouth."

      "Sand?"

      "They still took my toothpaste and made me brush my teeth with water and sand."

      "Where are they?  Who are they?  I will kick their butts!  I will throw some redneck karate on them and make them sorry they ever messed with you!"

     Riku started laughing again, and Cierra joined him, the two of them laughing so hard they could barely speak when it was their turn at the canteen counter.  Cierra pointed at the soda machine and put fifty cents on the counter.
~*~
     Five summers passed with the two of them at the same camp each year.  During the school years, they would write letters about school, parents, siblings, and events in each other's towns. Cierra was fascinated to learn about Riku's life in Japan, just as he was to learn about her life in Illinois.

     When he found out that she had not gotten a date for her senior high school prom and would be going alone, he told her that there would be something special arriving for her to take to the prom and to not leave until it came.  Thirty minutes before prom started, there was a knock at her front door.  Her little brother beat her to it and flung it open.

     Standing on the step with a clear plastic container that held a wrist corsage of quince blossoms he had carefully carried from Japan, Riku looked debonair in a tuxedo that had a bow tie and cummerbund that matched the color of Cierra's dress exactly.

     That night was the first time they kissed.  But not the last.
~*~
     Over the next fifteen years their relationship grew.  They both attended Southern Illinois University, although he at a campus in Japan where he studied Plant Biology, and she at a campus in Carbondale studying Forestry.  Every third semester, they would spend it together, alternating campuses so that Riku could show her Japan, and she could show him parts of the United States he had never seen before.  On the night they graduated with their PhD's, Riku proposed.

     Two years later, after a traditional Japanese wedding with all of Riku's family and friends in Japan, they had a second wedding in Illinois for all of her family and friends.  They spent their month long honeymoon camping, hiking, and mountain climbing in the Denali National Park, Alaska.

     They decided to make their home in Wisconsin near the camp where they first met.  Both worked on the Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest.  Cierra a Silviculturist, and Riku a Botanist.  One month a year they went to Japan to visit family, especially Riku's great grandmother.  She was over 100 years old and blind, but every bit as young and adventurous as she had been when she was 20.  They took her with them to every park, mountain, and forest that they visited when they were there.  Riku was Sōsobo's favorite grandson because he didn't treat her like an infirm old woman, but respected her and honored her wishes to join them. 

     On their 8th anniversary, they had gone camping in the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada.  A week into their trip, the instrument panel on their rental truck had gone dark, and they had been forced to detour into Prince Rupert to rent another.  As they were leaving town, both of them had been startled by a family of mountain goats that suddenly appeared at the edge of the road and slowly crossed it.  Just as they thought the last of them had crossed, a bouncy youngster with just nubs for horns appeared and trotted across with a look on its face that made both of them burst out laughing.

     They had been hiking along the top of a deep whitewater ravine when Riku had made a fateful decision to reach for a wildflower to give to Cierra.  As he turned to step back onto the path, he felt the ground begin to give way under his weight-bearing foot and before he could shift his weight to his forward foot, he began to fall backwards.  For a moment their eyes locked, and Cierra struggled to get to him in time to grab his hands.  

     Then he was gone.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

brave

Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination. This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts.
     She fixed her gaze on the horizon and pressed on against the wind and snow.  Passing a small cabin on her walk, the sound of dogs howling caused her to pause briefly.  She willed herself to believe that they truly were dogs and not the wolves she had heard lived in the forest.  The wind pushed against her and she wondered if it had been wind she had heard, not dogs ... or wolves.

     Brave was not a word she normally associated with herself, but tonight was not a normal night.  She smiled at the memory of her mother reminding her that "normal" was just a setting on a washing machine, and not something a woman should strive to be.

     "Be decisive, Cierra.  Be adventurous.  Be wise.  Be brave.  Be unique.  Be creative.  Be yourself.  Just don't ever settle on being normal."

     At that moment, the wind wrenched the hood of her parka back, and she felt the sting of ice and snow hit her face.  Turning her back to the wind, she was almost tempted to turn around and head back to the cabin she had just passed, wolves or no wolves.

     "This was a bad idea." she screamed into the wind as she began shake from the cold.  Why would a simple scribbled flower on a napkin have made her think that she was capable of finding him in this storm?  She should have waited until the next afternoon, after the storm had passed, when the road to the camp had been plowed.

      "I'm not brave, Mother.  I'm not adventurous, and I'm clearly not wise to be out here today.  What was I thinking?"

sustenance

Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination.  This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts. 
My words for last week are late as I have been dealing with some issues of the heart ... and learning a new job.  Better late than never, I suppose.

     Her presence was like sustenance, as nourishing to the heart as food and drink were to the body.  Talking with her was like sitting at a booth in a restaurant, overlooking a cobblestone street in a small German town, nestled at the foot of the Taunus Mountains.

     It felt like home.

     There wasn't any hint that anything was wrong.  Words flowed between them like syrup from a sugar maple in spring.  They both looked forward to their talks like one looked forward to sunshine and flowers after a long drab winter.

     The older they got, the more their conversations wrapped around the past.  Times shared.  Travels taken.  Cardboard boxes filled with treasured mementos picked apart by words, held up to the light to shine.

     It wasn't until later that it became apparent how wounded they both were.  Broken hearts stitched together by old memories.  They put on a good front, pasted empty smiles on their faces to the rest of the world, and were always astonished at how grateful they were for their friendship.

     It felt like home.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

television

Words for Wednesday is a weekly writing prompt that travels around the globe, provided each month by a different blogger. They can be words, phrases, photos, music...just about anything. Anyone can join in. The prompts for March have been provided by Delores at MutedMumblings.Blogspot.com.  The prompt for this week is television.
Tell me a story, Momma, read me a book.
Electricity changed how families interacted.
Listening to the radio,
Everyone gathered round to hear.
Vaudeville moved to the small screen,
Inviting families to laugh and
See things that they had once only
Imagined.  What was meant to bring
Our world closer, at times has torn us apart.
Now tell your children a story, read them a book.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

fresh dreams

Words for Wednesday is a weekly writing prompt that travels around the globe, provided each month by a different blogger. They can be words, phrases, photos, music...just about anything. Anyone can join in. The prompts for March are being provided by Delores at MutedMumblings.Blogspot.com.  They are indicated by bold italics.
     "Damn it!  Where is my blasted pen?" I stood and searched between the sofa cushions for the fourth time.  It never failed.  As soon as I found a pen that I really loved, one that wrote smoothly without hiccups, it managed to grow feet and disappear.  Grabbing the flashlight off the entertainment center, I gingerly eased to my knees to look under the sofa.  Nothing.  As I pulled myself up, I caught sight of my pen under my husband's cigarettes on his side of the ottoman.  Grrrrrr.

     I shot him a look that would have withered him if he'd been awake to see it, but he'd been working too hard lately and fell asleep more often than not while watching tv.  Tonight, a DIY show on HGTV was taking a derelict yard and turning it into a backyard paradise.  One of their ideas just before looking for my missing pen was taking broken terra cotta pots and making garden walkways.

     Slipping my favorite pen into the tin I used as a catch-all, I put my least favorite pen under his cigarettes.  I wondered if there was a way to keep my pen chained to my laptop.

     I always wanted to be a writer.  A journalist.  I worked on the school newspaper in junior high.  Wrote a letter to NASA before the first Space Shuttle took off and volunteered to be the first student journalist in space.  I wrote for my high school newspapers.  When I left home and moved to California, I wrote newsletters for family and submitted stories to magazines about life in the desert.

     We've entered the mud and slush season here in Wisconsin.  The ground is saturated from months and several feet of snow over the winter.  I'm ready for some fresh air, and to see green grass growing.  The trees are slowly coming alive and I can see leaf buds breaking out.  The birds are becoming more active, singing in the trees and flirting with each other.

     There is hope in the air, and my dreams are of writing again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Medusa

     Words for Wednesday is a moveable feast of participants. Each month the prompts ~ words, pictures, themes, or even phrases are provided by someone new.  The aim of the words is to encourage us to write. A story, a poem, whatever comes to mind. This month the words are supplied by Delores.  This week the words are in bold italics.
I woke with a start and jumped from my bed
Daylight Savings be damned, and I shook out my head
I rushed to the bathroom, to the mirror in despair
Oh my gosh oh my goodness oh my frizzy hair!
No time to shampoo, no time to condition
What I really need is a Fairy Godmother Beautician!
Someone who can do magic with a little gel and hot air
Whose skills with a brush will never impair
My own skills are lacking, I'm ashamed to admit
Beauty routine? None.  At least I shave my armpits!
She needs to have skills and great powers to repair
This wild hair of mine that wants to stand in midair.
I sigh as I look at my reflection aghast
One thing I am sure of, I know this at last,
image source: weheartit.com
With all that I've got
Medusa I'm not!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

time

     Words for Wednesday is a moveable feast of participants. Each month the prompts ~ words, pictures, themes, or even phrases are provided by someone new.  The aim of the words is to encourage us to write. A story, a poem, whatever comes to mind. This month the words are supplied by Delores.  This week the theme is "time."
Image Source: WeHeartIt.com
     Time.  We either have too much or too little.  Weekends are too short, work days too long.  Daylight Savings takes away an hour in the Spring, then gives it back again in the Fall.  When we have a deadline, we feel pushed for time.  The first day of vacation.  The last day.

     But in truth, all we have is this moment in time.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Life changes in an instant.  Blink and it's gone.  When this moment passes, it can't ever be regained.  Even if some future physicist created a time machine to go back in time, you still wouldn't be able to regain the moment that just passed.  The second time around, your thoughts and emotions will be impacted by what you already know.  It will be changed.

     Someone once asked me if I would clone my soul-dog Trooper if given the chance.  As much as I miss him, I wouldn't.  The clone wouldn't be him.  It might look like him, but it wouldn't be him.  He was the most amazing dog because of the experiences he had, we had.  To get the same exact dog, I would have to put him through all of the fearful, painful, difficult times that we experienced together and I would never want to do that to him.

     In the same way, going back in time to regain a moment is like trying to clone time.  You get a do-over, but it will be a new moment in time, not the one you are trying to relive.  

     Time is fleeting.  Precious.  Priceless. Things said or done can never be taken back.  Be careful with your time.  Spend it wisely.  Live it without regrets.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

labels

Here is a scary thought, and why I shouldn’t read labels – or maybe should read them before I eat what they are describing. 
I had some Bottlecaps candies today. I've not had them in forever – at least since I was a kid. 
 I’m sure that when I ate them as a child, I never read the ingredients label.

It was probably a good thing, although 40something years ago, the labels were probably a lot different.

What caught my attention for these was that the flavors are root beer, cola, cherry, grape and orange. The labeling says “no artificial flavors” so I wondered, where exactly does root beer and cola flavors come from and looked at the ingredients. 
 Not only did it leave me still wondering where those flavors came from, it made me wonder where the cherry, grape and orange flavoring came from.
There was no flavoring listed at all, just “colors.” Vegetable juice color. Caramel color. The usual suspects of blue #1 & 2 lake, red 40 lake, and yellow 5 lake. 
 And then something called annatto extract color. So I searched to see what an annatto was.
This is from WebMD which was an unexpected source in my search:
 “Annatto is a plant. The seed and leaf are used to make medicine. People take annatto for diabetes, diarrhea, fevers, fluid retention, heartburn, malaria, and hepatitis. They also use it as an antioxidant and bowel cleanser. Annatto is sometimes put directly on the affected area to treat burns and vaginal infections and to repel insects.”
EWWWWWWW!

What really made me throw up in my mouth was what was next on the ingredients list – AFTER it said it was a product of Mexico: 
“PRODUCED WITH GENETIC ENGINEERING.”

Say what?!?!?!?!?!

I will never eat Bottlecaps again!
But I will start reading more labels before I buy or eat something.