Why Teachers Suck …

So much truth here.

Bert Fulks

A friend and I were grousing about ignorance run amok.

“Americans get their information from internet memes,” I laughed.  “And in the true spirit of democracy, dullards who have never cracked a book will cancel the votes of people who actually have a clue. What could go wrong?”

“You know what the problem is?” Tim challenged.  “Our country’s a mess because teachers suck.”

teacher2I bristled.

Although I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, once a teacher, always a teacher.  Plus, I have family and friends still slugging it out in the trenches.  I know their battles and the wounds they carry.

“Dude, do you know what teachers endure on a daily basis?” I asked Tim.  I found that, no, he didn’t.  I fear most Americans might be as clueless.

I emailed a former colleague (she’s two years from retirement) and asked one question:  “How has education…

View original post 1,411 more words

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Nightingales (a short story)

NIGHTINGALES

by Melody Robinette

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(I DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS TO THIS PICTURE)

 

Aria sheathed her blade on her hip before slipping out of the cottage she shared with her mother and three sisters. No men inhabited these woods. At least not for a fortnight. But beasts did. Best to be prepared.

The men of Arsondower worked down in the valley between the mountainous hills. They were miners of sorts; only, instead of coal…they mined dragons. They were known as Dragon Keepers. Aria’s own father was there even now, carrying on the tradition passed down man to man to man.

It sounded like a tale of old. How lovely and magical, you might think. But Dragon Keepers had only one aim.

Gold.

Dragon scales were worth their weight in it. And dragon eggs were worth even more.

Aria knew the way to the small creek that cut through the dense woods by heart. She’d been there more than any other place in her life, carting her bucket. Sometimes she liked to pretend she was traveling far away, to another land. She loved her family, but being cooped up in a cottage wasn’t exactly the dauntless life she longed for.

The women of Arsondower were kept safe in the mountains, tucked inside the shadows of the trees. They weren’t to venture down into the valley. It was dangerous. It was a man’s world.

A time or two, when Aria was too young to know better, she’d asked her father why she couldn’t help with the dragons.

It’s man’s work, Lamb,” he’d said. “You stay in the cottage with Mommy where it’s safe.”

You can help with the butter,” Mommy had added. “Won’t that be fun? You love helping with the butter.

Aria did, in fact, love helping with the butter. Mostly because she’d swipe the side of the churn with her finger while her mother wasn’t looking and pop the creamy glop in her mouth. But, the older she grew, the more curious she became. Not about butter. Curious about the dragons.

So, one night, she snuck out of the cottage to follow her father and brother into the mines.

What she saw there still haunted her.

Fire-breathing beasts the size of redwood trees were chained to the ground with heavy, steel manacles. Their hides, usually known for their slick sheen, were dull and bleeding where the miners had stripped off their scales. Tortured despair hovered like a ghost in their eyes.

Aria was petrified. And outraged.

Her father had always taught her to be kind to the animals of the forest, to treat them with respect and reverence. Only to shoot with the intent to kill and consume.

Never hurt.

But there he was, hurting the creatures whose profiles were sewn into their town’s flags. She couldn’t make sense of it. She wanted to ask him why he’d do such a thing. But she never did. She’d snuck back up to her house, claiming to her worried mother that she’d gotten lost in the woods.

 

Remembering this now, Aria looked over her shoulder as she knelt beside the cool stream, bucket in hand. Sometimes when the wind blew through the branches, she swore she could hear the tormented cries of the dragons kept chained in the mines below.

Golden hair spilled forward as she leaned down to scoop up the water, her red cloak dragging on the ground.

Ripples appeared suddenly on the water, followed by a great, undulating wind. The hood of Aria’s cloak blew back as her face pointed skyward.

Seven winged grey animals, streaked with blue, landed on the bank across the creek from Aria. Hopping to her feet, knocking the bucket full of water over, she unsheathed her knife, holding it before her and wishing she’d thought to carry her bow.

Once the wind created by the animals’ wings died down, Aria realized what they were. Peryton. Majestic creatures with the head, forelegs, and antlers of a stag. Their hindquarters, wings, and plumage were that of a bird.

A rather large bird.

This wasn’t what caused Aria to unsheathe her knife, though. For, atop the creatures were figures dressed all in black.

“Who are you?” Aria demanded, sounding much braver than she felt. “What do you want? I have nothing for you. Unless you find yourself in need of a water pail and a dull hunting blade.”

One of the figures slid off their peryton and stepped into the light, causing Aria’s knife hand to fractionally lower.

It was a woman.

Skin the color of the tree bark behind the woman brought out the intense green of her eyes. Her hair was pulled back in a tight braid down her back. Shining black armor darker than coal covered her slim frame.

“Who are you?” Aria asked again, only this time in a voice of awe rather than anger.

“I am Zinnia. And we are Nightingales.” Shoulders burdened by horned armor straightened with pride. “Protectors and saviors of dragon kind.”

“Dragons,” Aria said in a whisper. “But the dragons are down in the mines in the valley. Why are you here?” She swept her hand over the water and gestured to the trees.

“To collect you, Aria Seaweather.”

“Collect me? But…what—”

“You have a hunger for adventure and a tender heart for dragons, do you not?”

Mouth opening and closing, Aria looked over her shoulder, down at the mines she couldn’t see. Remembering. Feelings from that night long ago crept across her skin, raising hairs.

“Yes,” she said in a breath. “I do.”

“Then come.”

***

Aria was given armor and weapons and a peryton of her own. She left her clothes, red cloak, and bucket in a pile near the creek. Standing beside the water, she peered down at her blurry reflection and felt a fire ignite in her core.

Oh. This was what she’d been missing. This.

“Ready, Seaweather?”

Weaving her golden hair into a secure plait, Aria turned to face the Nightingales. “Ready.”

Riding the peryton felt like traveling on a cloud of air, soaring smoothly over the ripples of wind. The atmosphere grew warmer as they neared the mines in the valley. A squirming worm of nerves twisted in Aria’s gut.

“Seaweather,” Zinnia called out. “Take this.”

Turning just in time, Aria caught the black weapon tossed her way. It looked like glowing coals shaped into a sharp sword.

“What is this?”

“A sectar. It will cut through metal. Use it on the dragons’ chains.”

“It cuts through metal?”

“And flesh.”

Aria gulped.

The Nightingales swooped down unseen on the valley, leaping from their peryton, and moving stealthily into the mines. Aria clutched her sectar as she moved forward, into the dark holes of despair.

Bellowing dragons—three of them—thrashed their heads as the Dragon Keepers went at their hides with scrapers. Glittering scales fell like teardrops onto the mine floor at the men’s feet. Aria skirted the edge of the wall, the darkness of her armor blending in with the night. Her hair on the other hand…

“You lost?”

Turning on her heel, Aria’s gaze landed on a young man about her age with hair the color of speckled sand. His sapphire eyes shown in the dim light of the mines. Tucking the sectar behind her, Aria flashed a bright smile.

“I was just curious about the dragons,” she simpered.

Curious?” The man’s mouth tugged upwards in amusement. “This is no place for a woman. It’s not safe.”

She nodded, eyes moving over the other men. “I agree… There are many dangerous creatures here.”

He looked her over. “Why are you dressed like that?”

Suddenly shouts and roars sounded from behind Aria, coming from the other mines. The Nightingales had released the first dragons.

The man looked wild-eyed at the scene in the center of the ring of mines where Dragon Keepers were now running. He turned back to Aria, his expression changing.

“I’m a Nightingale,” she murmured, answering his earlier question. Lunging around him, she bolted towards the first dragon, slicing her sectar through one of the thick manacles holding the creature down.

The dragon protested at first, then, seeing that one of its four legs were free, stood completely still, waiting for her to release the other three. The sandy-haired man ran at her, but she ducked under the dragon’s emaciated belly.

The beast kicked out its free leg, connecting with the man’s torso as Aria ran the sectar through two more chains, sprinting for the fourth.

“Aria!” a familiar voice shouted.

Hand raised, weapon at the ready, she looked up. Her father stood in the mouth of the mine, gaping at her in horror.

What do you think you’re doing?”

Men began to surround her, approaching slowly. She clutched her sectar tighter.

“A woman’s job.”

And then she brought down the sectar, cutting the final tie. The dragon reared its head and thrashed its tail as the men tried to keep it from leaving the mine. It trampled over them as if they were nothing more than scurrying beetles.

Aria ran like a spark, a streak of fire, burning through the mine. Sectar met metal, slicing through as easy her mother’s knife cutting freshly churned butter.

One free, two free, three free. Go.

“Go!” she shouted to the dragons. “Hurry!”

The Dragon Keepers ran about the valley like ants whose home has just been invaded by a human foot.

The final dragon began to leave, but turned back to look at Aria. “Go on,” she urged. “You’re free now.”

He retreated, coming closer to her. She knew she should probably be afraid, but she felt nothing more than awe at the beauty of this beast. The dragon lower his head and Aria saw that his snout had been tied shut as well. Guiding the tip of her sectar, she delicately cut through the thin chains.

Opening his mouth widely, Aria could see inside, waves of heat at the back of his throat and the bubbling of flames.

She took a step back, but the dragon closed his mouth and lowered his head again, indicating Aria should climb up. Men were closing in on the two of them, wielding swords and bows and angry faces. Aria climbed up, clutching onto the dragon’s neck as he turned, opening his mouth again.

The Dragon Keepers who’d been charging towards them halted in their steps…and then ran like Hades in the opposite direction, trying to outrun the wave of flames rolling after them.

The dragon let out another burst of fire and a growl that almost sounded like he was chuckling. And then he stepped forward, emerging into the clear air, spreading his leathery wings out, looking up at open sky.

“That’s all of them, Seaweather,” Zinnia called from the back of another dragon. “Let’s take them home.”

Aria nodded, patting the beast beneath her. “Fly, boy. Fly away from here.”

A puff of smoke furled out of the dragon’s nostrils and he ran forward, pumping his wings until they both lifted up. And then they turned towards the light of the moon, leaving the chains of the mines and forest behind.

Both soaring towards an unmapped freedom.

Ring Around Rosie (a short story)

Ring Around Rosie

by Melody Robinette

***

Ring around the rosies

Pocket full of posies

Ashes, ashes

We all

Fall

Down

***

 

Wesley Wilson

December 11th, 1983

Plukley, Kent, UK

A whispering wind blew through the creaking branches of the trees outside of my new house in my new neighborhood in my new town in my new country. Dad was always moving us places. It was his job. I wasn’t even sure what it was he did. He moved my mother and me around. That’s what he did. And then he’d be gone all the time. Working, I suppose.

Mother would clean the house and sit in her chair and sip tea. She wasn’t much for entertaining children. Her own son included. But I was smart for an eight-year-old, thank you, and I could entertain myself just fine. I’d grown used to it over the years. Why make friends when you would just end up leaving them?

Best to get used to imaginary friends. Get used to exploring. I preferred the latter.

The house in Plukley, Kent was nice enough, I supposed. The floorboards creaked and a musty scent hung like cobwebs in the air.

“Mother,” I called lightly to the hovering figure in the kitchen. “I’m going out.”

She responded with a small huff of air as she took another pass at the counter with her cloth.

Threading my arms through the sleeves of my corduroy coat, I left through the whining front door. The hinges squealed in protest of my departure.

The ground was hard with winter, but I welcomed the sweet scent of ice in the air. Our last town had been a beach town. The air was always salty. I hated it.

Our new house was nestled in sparse woods with thin trees. The houses were rather far apart from one another. Not like the town I lived a few years before where you could hear the conversations of your next door neighbors at suppertime.

On my exploratory walk, I reached a dilapidated trail leading away from our house into a thicker copse of trees. Of course, I followed it.

Walk into the woods.

What was the worst thing that could happen?

The silence in the town was unnerving. It was more than just sleepy. It was eery. As if all the residents had been gagged and tied up to keep from speaking. No animals populated the thickening woods, which I found rather strange. Though, it was winter. Perhaps they were hibernating. Bit early for that, but it eased my curiosity.

The copse of trees thinned out again to reveal another house similar to my own. But, if it was possible, even worse for wear. Peeling paint, hanging shutters, a grey aura of age emanating from the wooden beams. Attached to the house was a tall, wooden fence. It looked like an animal enclosure. For dangerous animals that were only fed with a long pole.

I approached it, of course, walking the periphery, running my hand along the dusty wooden planks. I tried to peek inside, but the slats between the boards were too narrow.

Then I saw the key.

Well, keys, I should say. A set of them stuck into the keyhole of the door in the wooden fence. Bone keys. At least that’s how I thought of them. My parents always corrected me when I used the term. But the word skeleton creeped me out, so I replaced it with “bone” whenever necessary.

The keys were swaddled in a thick film of cobwebs. I wondered how long it had been since they’d been touched by human hands. I reached out to take them and paused when I heard a strange, melancholy voice. A girl’s voice.

Ring around the Rosie. Pocket full of posies. Ashes. Ashes. We all…fall.

“Hello?”

The singing stopped.

“Is someone in there?” I asked in an unsteady voice, pressing my ear to the wood, listening. No more singing, but I swore I could hear breathing. “Hello?” I said again.

A voice lighter than the wind answered me. “Do you have them?”

I reeled back in surprise, my heart hurting from going slowly to bullet-speed in seconds. Again, I tried to look through the slit in the fence. I saw nothing but dirt. “Do I have what?”

“Keys,” the voice answered.

I looked again at the bone keys before me. They were stuck through the keyhole as if someone had considered opening the door but changed their mind halfway through.

“There are keys here,” I said. “Is that what you mean?” I sounded much braver than I felt.

“Come in,” the voice said. “Come in.”

I reached for them, grasping hold. My hand moved a millimeter to the left before I changed my mind. I didn’t like the idea of opening a door without knowing the contents within. There was not enough space to look through in the fence. But there was a keyhole.

Instead of turning the lock, I pulled the key out, bending down to look through the keyhole.

Inside the fence, there was no vegetation, no bush or flower or sprig of grass. Just a circle of dirt. In the middle was a raised mound surrounded by a sunken ring of a trail as if someone had paced around and around and around, wearing the dirt away. None of this mattered much to me, though. Because dirt wasn’t the only thing inside.

There was also a girl. A young girl. About my age, probably. Everything about her was fair, from her almost translucent skin to her corn silk hair. She wore a cream colored dress and sat atop the mound of dirt rocking back and forth, twisting her head from side to side. She started to sing again.

Ring around the Rosie. Ring around the Rosie. Ring around. Ring around. Ring around…me.

The hairs on my arms raised as her hollow eyes landed on me. She stopped singing and smiled with only her lips.

“Come in, Wesley. I’ve been waiting for you here. Come in.”

A susurration from behind me forced me to pull away from the fence, looking wildly around. A trio of wolves stood on the edge of the forest watching me with narrowed eyes and bared teeth. White foam ringed their mouths.

Singing girls locked in wooden cages. Rabid wolves. What kind of town had my father brought us to this time?

I stood slowly, the bone keys still clutched in my hand, trying not to startle them.

This movement was too much. They began to charge. I had a good ten seconds until they reached me. My options were slim. I could try to outrun them, but I wasn’t a fast runner. I could try to fight them, but I had no weapon and my arms were puny. Or…

I looked back to fence, and feeling I had no other choice, I jammed the bone key into the keyhole and turned it hard to the left. I slipped in through the gate and slammed it shut behind me. The wolves crashed against the planks, snarling and growling.

I tripped back onto the hard ground, my chest rising and falling in rapid succession.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Wesley.”

Scrambling to my feet, I turned to see the little girl standing inside the trodden ring of dirt now, leaning towards me.

“What do you…what do you mean?”

“Come,” she said, stifling a giggle. “Come play in the ring.”

I stood, but I didn’t move. The wolves were still growling at the fence.

“I’m Roselyn,” she said.

I remember her song and whisper, “Ring around the Rosie?”

“Yes!” She giggled. “Ring around me.”

She laughed again, and continued to laugh, echoing around the ring. All of a sudden the laughter stopped and her eyes slowly rolled upwards until only the white was showing. Then she collapsed into the ring. Forgetting my fear of her, I rushed forward, falling to my knees beside the trodden ring of dirt and peering down.

Her flaxen hair covered her fair face and she didn’t appear to be breathing. I moved to touch her.

Then her hand flashed forward and clutched onto my arm. Her eyes, still all white, flew open and mine fell closed.

***

Blinking away the darkness, I opened my eyes. I was lying on dirt. A mound of dirt. Lifting my head, I tried to take in my surroundings. I was on the mound of dirt inside the circular trail. I was inside the ring. But the girl who was here before was nowhere to be seen.

Then my gaze moved to the gate, to the open keyhole. To the white-blue eyes staring through. A screeching giggle sounded on the other side of the fence.

And then she started to sing.

Ring around the Wesley. Ring around the Wesley. Ring around. Ring around. We all…fall…down.

The Day the Towers Fell

Every year, on this day, I post or share this excerpt. I don’t know what it is about 9/11, perhaps the fact that I was actually alive for such a huge historic event, but I can’t get enough footage of it. I need to know everything about it. I want to hear all the stories. So much so, I created my own, embedded in the backstory of one of my main characters. Grayson Cross of my Halo series. (Due out in 2017). I wanted to write a story about that day, and I wanted it to be historically accurate. So I spent two weeks researching and studying and drinking in all the articles and news footage and documentaries I could find just to write one chapter. But it was important to me. And I hope it makes you feel something. Anger, sadness, compassion. Something.

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The Day the Towers Fell by Melody Robinette

He’d been fourteen then. An irresponsible, miserable teenage boy who’d lost his mother and had no knowledge on the whereabouts of his father. Chief Joe Mancuso was all he had, a man Gray always admired and looked up to. Joe was never particularly good at discipline or laying down rules. He let Gray make his own decisions and mistakes—said it would help shape him as a man. Joe was the bravest man Gray knew, always the first one in to a burning building and the last one out. He had saved countless lives. He saw it as his duty and was nothing but humble when family members thanked him for rescuing their loved ones.

The morning of 9/11 was like any other. Joe was on duty at the firehouse so Gray was left alone in their tiny, efficiency apartment that cost more than a large house in Texas. Gray didn’t mind it, though. He was happy to sleep on the couch as long as he had somewhere to sleep. That morning he had contemplated skipping school, but remembered he had a test in his History class, so he reluctantly climbed off the squeaking couch and walked the four blocks to school. Five minutes after the first bell, he made it to class just as the teacher was beginning to pass out the exams.

“Nice of you to join us, Mr. Cross,” the teacher, Coach Sims, had said in a wry tone.

“No problem,” Gray had answered, eliciting a chorus of giggles from the group of freshman girls in the seats behind him.

Gray hadn’t studied for the test, but still managed to pull out a B. History was a strength of his. Plus, it was multiple choice. He probably could have passed the thing without ever having looked at the material simply by process of elimination.

After the test, Coach Sims plopped a pile of worksheets on everyone’s desk and told them to get to work. Not much teaching involved in that class. Gray hated worksheets and rarely completed them. He could remember the information well enough without having to fill in the blanks on a piece of paper. So he cupped his hands over his eyes to make it look like he was studying the book intently when really he was attempting to catch another thirty minutes of sleep.

Just as his head began to feel heavy and his eyes were sliding shut, a massive sonic boom—or, at least, that’s what it sounded like—echoed throughout the classroom. Gray’s eyes shot open and he looked around at the other startled faces.

“It was just a jet passing by,” Coach Sims said irritably. “Go back to work.”

“That didn’t sound like a jet,” the boy next to Gray whispered nervously.

Minutes later, the eccentric English teacher from the class next door came rushing in. “Turn on the news,” she said breathlessly. “The World Trade Center has been hit by an airplane.”

Gray craned his neck as Coach Sims pointed the remote at the classroom television and tuned the channel to CNN. A horrifying picture filled the screen of the North Tower with a gaping hole near the top. Smoke billowed out and malevolent flames licked the air.

“My mom works there!” one of the girls in his class sobbed, her shaking hands covering her gaping mouth.

One of the news reporters on the television was saying a small aircraft had accidentally crashed into the tower. A small aircraft? Gray thought. That hole is way too large to be a small aircraft. Sure enough an eyewitness began telling the news reporter the plane looked more like a twin-engine passenger jet.

Gray’s school was within walking distance of the World Trade Center, so the entirety of his class rushed to the windows, pulling the blinds open, and peered out, trying to catch a glimpse of the Twin Towers.

  The towers themselves were not visible, but clouds of smoke could be seen pumping into the air in the distance. Fire engine horns blared as they passed by and Gray’s thoughts went to his uncle. He was on duty. He would be there. Suddenly a nervous worry clenched his stomach and he listened more closely to the news as he watched the smoke fill the sky. Time seemed to simultaneously stop and speed up.

Gray glanced back at the clock on the wall.

8:59.

Three minutes passed as quick as seconds ticking by and then came another loud explosion followed by an enormous fireball blossoming in the smoky sky. Almost in unison, the class turned to look at the television and saw what Gray feared. The second tower had been hit. And it was clearly not an accident.

Silence. Then—

“It’s a terrorist attack!” a girl screamed.

And Gray bolted out the door.

“Get back here, Grayson!” Coach Sims called down the hall, but Gray was already sprinting to the exit. His uncle was in the thick of a terrorist attack. He couldn’t just sit in a classroom and watch as it unfolded on a television.

So he ran.

Two blocks away. One block away. Legs pumping, heart racing, he sprinted through crowds of people running away from the burning towers as he ran towards them. Papers, ash, and pieces of the buildings fell from the sky like deadly flakes of snow. The air smelled of smoldering metal and burning paper, and something else. He shuddered to think of what that something else could be.

Many people fled in fear, but just as many stood transfixed, staring up at the two burning skyscrapers. A cacophony of noise blared in Gray’s ears. People sobbing. People screaming. Sirens. Policemen and firemen calling out orders. Periodic explosions from above. Debris raining down on the ground.

As he neared the buildings, he was blocked by a policeman telling him to stay back.

“But my uncle is a firefighter—”

“I’m sorry, son, it’s too dangerous,” the policeman said.

Gray moved away from him, his eyes constantly being pulled to the terrible sight above. He wondered if his uncle was already in there. Already thirty, forty, fifty stories up. He may have been the chief, but he would have wanted to help the people. As many as he could. He wouldn’t be at the command center.

And, as he thought this, Gray noticed large objects falling every few minutes from the top stories of the towers. He squinted his eyes to see what they could be. Were the people throwing desks out of the windows? Chairs? But desks and chairs wouldn’t move and twist in such a way as they fell. Then understanding washed over him.

The objects were people.

People falling. No…worse. They were jumping. He tried to imagine how horrible things could be up there for so many people to choose to jump. How utterly hopeless it must have felt for them. And he momentarily forgot about his uncle while he watched as, one by one, another life was extinguished.

“God, help them,” he whispered.

He couldn’t recall how long he stood there with the other souls who couldn’t pull themselves away. He watched the base of each tower for any sign of his uncle. Several firemen he recognized came out of the first tower and moved to the second, but none from his uncle’s battalion. They remained in the first tower. Gray’s eyes moved from one tower to the other, trying to ignore the bodies that continued to fall from the upper levels.

Then something on the second tower caught his attention. The place where the plane hit was bending outward, nearly buckling. Glass began shattering out from the area and Gray was just realizing what was about to happen when a deafening roar erupted before him.

The second tower was collapsing.

It crashed straight down like a burning ship sinking into an ocean of cement with waves of debris splashing up into the air. It was the wave of debris that sent him sprinting in the opposite direction. After a few seconds he realized he wouldn’t be able to outrun the impending cloud of dust. He came upon a pickup truck sitting empty against the curb, its front door resting open. Gray leapt into the truck and slammed the door shut just as the dust cloud passed over him.

Everything went dark.

Ash rained down on the windows of the pickup until Gray could no longer see out of them. The smell coming in through the vents was indescribable. It burned his nose and throat and pricked his eyes. It took several minutes for the dust to settle enough for Gray to see anything more than dark shapes. It took the same amount of time for his heart to not feel like it was trying to escape from his chest. He cracked the door of the truck and peered out. What was once a crowded street was now a gray wasteland. A few dust-covered people remained, coughing and retching on the street from inhaling the toxic ash.

  The North Tower still burned, pumping black smoke into the sky to accompany the white cloud of debris. Gray bent down and ran his fingers over the ashy ground, wondering what these particles were before. Glass from a window? Part of the floor? A picture of someone’s family? Or…someone. He hastily wiped the ash off on his pants, shuddering.

  Strange that the second tower collapsed first, he thought. Though it was hit lower and had more weight to bring it down. The first one shouldn’t be far behind. Then his stomach sank at this thought. There weren’t as many policemen blocking his way this time and he was able to slip past one who was rinsing his mouth out with water and spitting it on the sidewalk.

Gray almost ran into the first tower, but thought better of it. There was still large amounts of debris falling. Bodies still falling. And firemen were already beginning to pour out of the building. Some looked badly injured from the other tower’s collapse. He recognized a man his uncle called “Father Judge” being carried out by several firefighters. Gray watched as they laid his still body in front of Trinity Church before he tore his eyes away to watch for his uncle.

One by one, firemen from his uncle’s battalion trickled out of the building and onto the streets. Luka, his uncle’s close friend, came within earshot of him and Gray had to call out his name several times before the fireman turned his ash-covered head to look in Gray’s direction.

“Sonny?” Luka said, approaching him. “What’re you doin’ over here? It’s dangerous. Go to the firehouse and—”

“Where’s Joe?” Gray interrupted.

“He was a few flights behind me. He should be out soon. Why don’t you go to—”

“I’m not going back to the firehouse!” Gray exclaimed.

“Okay, okay!” Luka said, holding up his hands. “Just keep away from the tower, alright?”

With that Luka turned and trudged back towards a group of firemen.

Then Gray saw him. His Uncle Joe. Carrying a bleeding woman on his back. Paramedics soon relieved him of the woman and took over. Joe was given a water bottle by another fireman who was yelling in his ear and pointing towards the collapsed tower. Joe shook his head, looking angry. And Gray knew then what Joe wanted to do.

Ignoring his better judgment and Luka’s warnings, Gray raced across the street to his uncle. “You can’t go back in there!”

“Gray?” Joe said in surprise.

“This tower is built the exact same as the other. It’s only a matter of time before it collapses too.”

“Then I better hurry,” Joe said.

“Uncle Joe! You can’t—”

“I don’t wanna hear it, Gray. There are still people up there. I’m goin’ back up,” Joe said, turning back to the remaining tower.

“If you go back in there, you’ll die,” Gray shouted angrily.

“Then I will die knowing I did everything I could,” Joe yelled over his shoulder.

“There’s nothing else you can do!” Gray called desperately.

But Joe was already in the building.

A couple of firemen watched Joe go back in with grave expressions and Gray knew they were thinking the same things he was. They were not good things.

And it was only a minute—maybe two—before the first tower began to fall around them. Gray ran, but he was too stunned to get far. Something crashed into him and he was pulled by invisible hands under a nearby fire engine.

The cloud of ash quickly filled his lungs and he was sure he was going to die there, suffocating on the clotted air. The last thing he saw before he passed out were hundreds—perhaps thousands—of colorful, pulsating orbs of light circling around the air where the buildings had once been. They were breathtaking. Some were colors he could neither name nor recognize.  To this day, Gray still didn’t know what it was that made him hallucinate like he did. Perhaps the lack of oxygen or the chemicals in the ash. Or maybe his mind was trying to conjure up a pleasant image with which to leave him when it thought he was dying.

The next thing he remembered was water being poured in his mouth and over his face. Slowly, he sat up and looked around. He was laid out on the sidewalk in a layer of dust. The others around him sounded like they were coughing up their lungs, but his felt fine. He was breathing normally. Though he did have dust in about every exposed orifice.

Luka was there. He handed him another bottle of water and Gray rinsed out his mouth for the second time before pouring the rest over his head, the soot turning to mud in his hair. It took a few gallons to get the stuff out of his ears, nose, and eyes.

The area that was once the twin towers was now a pile of molten metal, ash, and pieces of the building jutting out of the ground. He imagined that was what the entryway to hell looked like. Compared to the earlier noise that had assaulted Gray, the silence was even more unsettling. He wanted to yell or shout something. Or sob. But he couldn’t. He could barely move, much less speak. Not from pain or injury, but from shock.

Luka made Gray come back to the firehouse to wait for the other firemen from their battalion. Through a haze of numbness, he washed the muck out of his hair as they waited for the others to return. One by one, the men returned looking downcast and, at the same time, relieved. Some were bleeding. Others were crying. Some had a dead look in their eyes as if they had completely shut their brains off to avoid further mental damage. As they trickled in, they were engulfed in hugs and pats on the back. No one had been sure of how many of their people made it out.

By afternoon, everyone was accounted for except for three: the youngest guy in the firehouse named Tyler, Luka’s brother, Larry, and Gray’s uncle, Joe.

The televisions in the station were tuned on, replaying the day’s events. Over and over and over again. Some of the guys recounted their experiences and disbelief of what happened. Others sat in silence or called their families. Gray had no one to call. His last bit of family was either dead or trapped in the rubble of the towers.

“What do we do now?” one of the men asked, sounding helpless.

“I say we go back and help search,” Luka said. “Three of our guys could still be out there.” Gray could tell he was having difficulty keeping his voice steady. His brother had still not returned.

“But they told us to—” the other man began.

“I don’t give a damn what they said,” Luka interrupted. “Let’s go.”

Seven from their battalion left the firehouse, the rest stayed behind in case any of the three returned. The battalion’s fire engine had been buried in the collapse so they had to take Luka’s pickup. No one said anything when Gray climbed into the bed of the truck with the others.

The pile that was once the twin towers was overwhelmingly vast. And dangerous. One wrong step and Gray could fall into a thirty-foot chasm. Hours passed and night fell. A blackout occurred, plunging them even further into darkness. Flashlights were passed around and generators were brought to the site so the rescue teams could continue searching. At around 8:30pm, someone turned a car radio on. President Bush was addressing the nation. Gray missed most of what was said. It was a speech to empower the country. To reassure them retaliation would occur. Frankly, in that moment, Gray didn’t care. He just wanted him to stop talking so they could continue to search for his uncle.

Around midnight, Luka decided to go back to the firehouse to shower, eat, and sleep a bit so they would be rested the next morning when they’d continue their search. Gray showered and ate mechanically, but sleep evaded him. He lay awake for hours in the bed where his uncle had slept, replaying the day’s events over and over as the news stations had earlier that day.

The firehouse was up and ready just after sunrise. School was cancelled that day. Not that Gray would have gone anyway. Luka let Gray ride down to the site in his truck again. The mound of ash and debris was referred to as “the pile” by the firefighters. When their men arrived, they began forming companies of five firemen and one officer.

They helped clear out the debris with buckets and listened and looked for any signs of life beneath the rubble. Every so often someone would yell for quiet and everyone would stop working. Stop talking. They just listened and waited for someone to be pulled out of the pile, alive. Each time this happened Gray’s heart would nearly stop as he waited. Hoping they had found him. That they found his uncle. But, more often than not, it would be a false alarm and everyone would slowly start back to work.

There were no whole objects. No desks. No chairs. No pieces of office equipment. Just dust. There were occasional solitary body parts that forced Gray to temporarily halt his digging and take a few deep, calming breaths.

They spent the day just digging. Then the ironworkers would remove the steel beams and everyone would go back to digging. Several times people shouted that a building was going to collapse and everybody would run away. When things were considered stable they would trudge back and dig some more.

That first day they uncovered several bodies, or parts of bodies. One person was pulled out alive.

Luka, Gray, and a few others came back the next day. Technically their battalion was off, but they still had three guys missing. Luka wanted to find his brother. Gray wanted to find his uncle.

And find him they did….

“Hey! We got a body over here!” one of the workers called. “Looks like a fireman.”

Gray ran over to the spot and froze. It was his Uncle Joe. His uniform had been burned off of him, but one of his boots still remained. Gray had heard many people describe dead bodies as appearing to be asleep. Joe did not look like he was sleeping. He looked dead. Rigamortis had set in, his body was beginning to bloat, and dried blood covered his head. They found him under part of what used to be a staircase. The medical examiner said he had been alive when the towers collapsed. That he had likely died from lack of oxygen due to being trapped beneath the rubble. He had been alive. But they had been too late. If only Gray would have looked in the right place.

Gray watched as they zipped his uncle into a body bag and covered him in an American flag. Luka clenched his shoulder tightly. They never did find the body of Luka’s brother or the young fireman named Tyler. After Joe’s body was uncovered, Luka told Gray to go back to the firehouse. When he arrived there, the others had already heard the news. They wrapped him in hugs, some sobbed on his shoulder. From that day on, the firemen were his family, the firehouse his home.

That was the day he moved his things out of his uncle’s apartment and into the firehouse. That was the day he decided to become a fireman. That was the day his life changed forever…

A Day in the Life of a Summer Writer

I don’t know why I think anyone would care what I do all day, but I get that question a lot for some reason. It’s summer, and I’m a teacher ten months out of the year, which means I get to collect my overtime for two months. (June and July) Save for a few professional development days. I write all year ’round, but during the summer…I’m a full-time writer. And it’s awesome.

Currently, I’m writing Alex and Azalea, the prequel novella to my Underground Trilogy. And I’m editing Ash, the second book in the series. It’s been published, but I’m working on re-editing and re-formatting it.

So, here’s what my summer writing day looks like:

7:30 am– Wake up without an alarm 🙂

(Lay in bed and scroll through all the social media platforms. It’s embarrassing how long I let myself do this.)

8:30 am– Actually go downstairs and make coffee, brew, add cream, clean up coffee grounds, nuke it until it’s scalding. Grab chocolate. (Important step)

8:45 am-Sit in “the writing chair” and open Scrivener, scan the last few paragraphs of what I wrote yesterday, long-hand write what I plan on writing today in a physical journal. (For some reason it helps.)

(Get stuck on Facebook for another five minutes.)

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9:00 am– Using the “Pomodoro Method” write for 25 straight minutes with a timer. (Wrote 750 words during this go.)

9:25 am– 5-minute Break (Nuke coffee again)

9:30 am– Write for 25 more minutes (700 more words)

9:55 am-5 minute Break (Nuke the last of my coffee)

10:00 am– Write for 25 more minutes (Final morning word count = 2029)

IMG_220510:25 am– 5-minute Break

10:30 am– Have a psychotic break and decide it’s a good idea to take a 45-minute walk outside…in the Texas heat. Why? Who knows.

11:20am– Collapse on living room floor. Chug water.

11:30am– Make myself get up off the floor and return to my chair. Open Grammarly and the word document of the novel I’m currently editing (inwardly whine about it) Edit for, like, 20 minutes and decide I’m hungry for lunch.

11:50ish am– Make avocado toast with ricotta cheese (it’s delicious) Open Netflix, watch an episode of Shameless (SO FREAKING GOOD)

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12:45ish pm-Go back to editing

1:30 pm– Decide I’m gross from walking outside and probably need a bath. Grab book, read in the bath, wash hair, etc.

IMG_22202:15 pm– Get mad because I somehow got my book completely soaked. Brush hair, apply lotion, get dressed, go back to “the writing chair”

2:30 pm– Write half of this blog post

3:00 pm– Go back to editing (UGGHHHHH)

IMG_22223:30 pm– Eat a snack. Watch more Shameless. (Because summer.)

4:30 pm– Chat with the HusBen who is now home from work, do some crunches to get that six pack…yeah, contemplate whether I should do more editing now or later.

(Mess around on social media instead)

5:15 pm– Make tea. Edit some more.

IMG_22236:10 pm– Throw computer across the room. Just kidding. But…no more editing for today. Okay? No more.

6:15pm– Make more avocado toast. Because I can have the same meal for lunch and dinner. Shhh. Don’t judge me.

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SHAMELESSSSSSSSS

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(Can’t you tell it’s so good ^^^ LOL!)

7:30pm and on– Probably watching more Shameless, finishing and posting this blog, messing around on Pinterest and social media, reading my new book (from my book of the month box!) and hanging with the HusBen.

Tomorrow (after my damn 7am dental appointment) I’ll probably do it all over again in one way or another. But, yeah. In addition to what I wrote, there were also other random things that are too minor or inappropriate to write in a blog. Also, I’m a type one diabetic, so there was, of course, testing of my blood sugar and changing out my insulin and such in between everything.

Do this every day, and you have the completed first draft of a novel (or novella in this case) and an edited novel ready within about two months. (or less)  It works for me. This is my summer. (Sometimes I go to coffee shops and do the writing and editing thing.)

And this is basically what I do during the school year too, only minus the fun Shameless watching and snacks and social media checking breaks. I wake up earlier (5AM!) and write about the same amount, and edit in the evenings. It’s a full-time job wrapped around my other full-time job.

Maybe soon it will be my only one. 😉

Absence Makes the Author’s Heart Grow Fonder

IMG_0383   So, I’ve been working on lots of things lately. Lots and lots. Do you ever have, like, a billion projects going on at once and none of them feels close to being completed? Once upon a time, I used to work on one book at a time. Not so anymore. I’m sure I could if I wanted, but, after publishing the Underground Trilogy, I found myself in a perpetual state of writing, plotting, planning, and editing…all at the same time.

It helps because I like to leave books alone for a little while (like the brilliant Stephen King suggests) so I can stop being so attached to the story and re-read it from a reader’s point of view. I also like to do this with trilogies and series because I have found that when I’m writing them one right after the other, I grow tired of the characters and the world. Not because it’s boring or anything, but because I’m a fickle Gemini that is obsessed with change.

For instance, I’ve been working on a trio of books called the Halo Trilogy, which is about a race of half-angels called, you guessed it, Halos, who’ve been called upon to save the world from the fallen angel known as Caducus. Two of the Halos–Aurora and Gray–find themselves unnaturally attracted to one another. They later find out that it actually has an otherworldly explanation.

I love these two characters. I love them because they are different from what I was used to writing. Aurora is headstrong and tough and, at times, even cruelly cold. For reasons wrapped up in her past. Gray, on the other hand, is gentle and kind and helpful. This is different for me because I was used to writing guys with dark secrets and brooding attitudes. Bad boys who wished they were good and all that. Gray sort of shattered all of those stereotypes. He balanced out Aurora and I loved him for it.

But, for some reason, writing these books began to drain me. I don’t know if it’s the world building or the depth I explore each character, but it has literally taken me three years to get through this trilogy. That may not seem like a lot to some writers, but since I’ve begun plotting, I can write books in only a few month’s time. What I’ve been doing with the Halo Trilogy, though, is finishing the books during NaNoWriMo. Something about the competitiveness and tight deadline helps me finish the novels.

And after this past year’s NaNoWriMo, when I finished the second book and started the third, I was so ready for a break from the Halo world. Now, it’s only July, and I’m so freaking ready to return and finish it. I’ve found myself thinking about Gray and Aurora, hating that I’ve left them hanging. I’m itching to come back to them.

Guess what they say is true. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

So, my advice to you, if you happen to find yourself in a place where you are bored with your characters and story…take a break. Maybe even a long one. Your readers and characters deserve a story you’re excited about. Your boredom will be evident between the lines. So, take a break. Eventually, the story will pull you back to it.

And, if not, maybe you were bored for a reason.

Novel #9. Done.

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Am I the only one that gets super sad after finishing a novel? There’s a moment of elation at first. Like, hell yes. I did it. I’m finished. And then it’s like…But wait. I’m going to really miss these characters. I don’t want them to leave. WAHHH.

This novel, Wake You, was the second book in my Dust to Dust duology (two book series) about Dex, a Scythe–sorcerer Grim Reaper–who is assigned to Reap the soul of his ex-best friend, Roland. It’s an M/M paranormal romance and I am obsessed with these two characters. I honestly think LGBT is my true niche. My best novels and characters have been LGBT.

I’ll still write hetero stuff, of course. I don’t discriminate. I love everything 😉

Anyway. Now that I’m finished with this novel, I’m going to move backwards for just a bit, re-editing my first three novels so I can format them myself. (And there were a couple of things in Oaken that really bothered me.) I wanted to learn how to format so I can manipulate the files whenever I need to, like adding buy links to the back and such. Right now, I have to contact my formatter any time I need something changed, which costs me money and time in the end. Both of which I’d like to save.

I’m also going to be writing a prequel to the Underground Series to give away for free as people sign up for my mailing list. 🙂 It’s going to be a novella based on the love story between Autumn and Luke’s parents. I’m excited to venture back into the Underground (and the Outside) again.

THEN I’ll finally be publishing The Choice, another, rather personal LGBT novel of mine.

That’s it for now. I’m going to go mourn over my finished novel some more now.

*Sniff*

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