Apr 10

Spring?

This weekend’s spring weather. Another anomaly? It isn’t that unusual for the mountains to get snow in April (though we are generally below snow level at 5,000′). What is unusual is the combination of rain, snow, and wind coming on top of soil that was already saturated from the winter’s precipitation. We had more trees downed (dozens) in this storm than any storm we’ve experienced in this location for the past 20 years.

Life often mimics nature. Small “storms” set the scene. The size of the storms and the frequency increases until the “perfect storm” hits, a storm that flattens everything it contacts. Then comes the clean-up.

Over the past year, my family has been surviving what has felt like a perfect storm. Most of the clean-up has been done. Now I’m moving forward, especially with writing. Stay tuned for news about upcoming publications!

 

Mar 23

Spring cleaning!

Since technology keeps rolling forward while I feel like I’m sliding backward, I’ve enlisted some help (thanks Brandon!) to get my website/social media sites, etc. upgraded. This post is basically a test. Hopefully, it will show up in the places it’s supposed to!

Mar 13

Full Moon Rising

It seems as though the past seven or eight months has passed in a blur. I’ve been writing and submitting, had some acceptances, finally finished and indie published It Ain’t No Bull (an ongoing project for wayyy too long) all while dealing with the passing of my father and a totally crazy winter. Winter has taken a breath, giving me a chance to step back and take a look at where things are in the Swanns’ writing/publishing arena.

Up to now, wrestling words onto the page has competed with wrestling with first mud, then snow and more snow and more snow, then rain and more mud. Our exterior landscape has changed and will take some work (once things get dried out) to get back to “normal.” The welcome appearance of Spring, whether it’s fleeting or here to stay, is accompanied by singing birds, green grass, and mosquitoes the size of helicopters (they must have formed a flotilla and ridden in on one of the recent atmospheric rivers).

Between mosquitoes and an inflamed hamstring, I’m “forced” to put butt in chair and fingers on keyboard (*grin*), resulting in more words on page. Upcoming novels include Abby Crumb: Night of the Golden Pea and  The Thirteenth Alchemist: a Myrtle Creek novel. I’ll be posting more on both in the coming weeks. I also have short stories appearing in Fiction River anthologies as well as several bundles this year. Definitely plenty to keep me busy!

Stay tuned for exciting end-of-the-month news as well as updates on survival on the “frontier”!

 

 

 

Aug 15

Time – A Contemplation

In some ways, it’s hard to begold-lake-8-14-16lieve almost a year has gone by since Jim was training for Ironman Lake Tahoe. In other ways, it’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since he was training. Yesterday, he went back in the water for the first time since the event last September and did amazingly well. It was a beautiful morning, water calm and reflective. I had a chance to relax just a tad as I paddled along behind him on my board, kayak-style. At one point, the sun reflected off the water into the massive pines, willows, and birch along the shore, creating a show of light and motion both beautiful and hypnotizing. All too soon, a breeze picked up, shattering the reflection with tiny wind ruffles.

And the day moved on.

Time has an odd way of playing mind games–of the glass half-full, half-empty type. Many of us long for the time to do something, then when that time comes, find ways to procrastinate, then wonder where all the time has gone.

My father is 91 and we don’t know how much longer we’ll have him around. He isn’t doing well and I think he knows it, but you can’t convince him to take care of himself. He knows what’s best, even in his current state. He seems to exist in a place where time is fluid, slipping back in his own history, then sliding forward into the present. We never know what he’s going to talk about next–when he talks.

As a writer, I try to put myself in my father’s place. How does it feel to experience what he’s going through? How aware is he of the “real” world? How much time is spent in his past with friends only he knows? As a daughter, I find myself on an emotional roller coaster, working to support my sister, caregiver for both Mom and Dad, help Jim’s business where needed, and keep my own career on track. Emotions tend to act like a sinkhole as far as Time is concerned. One minute, there’s an abundance of time to complete a project. Then something happens–can be as simple as thinking about the past–and the next thing I know, all that Time has vanished.

Yes, this happens even when life isn’t on an emotional roller coaster. As the minutes, days, years tick by I find myself wanting to slow Time, to somehow anchor it tight so it doesn’t completely disappear. As I watch my father, that desire, no matter how unreasonable, intensifies. As the man who was once my anchor loses his hold on reality and gently slips away, I find myself wondering how long until I do the same?

 

Aug 02

Tending the Garden

greenhouse-jungle I always dread being gone for too long when the greenhouse is going full bore. I never know what I’ll come back to. It only takes a few days before the growth reaches the point where maintenance requires more hours than I can give.

This time I was gone for five days. Just before leaving, Brandon and I gave the greenhouse a “crew cut,” with the hope that the pruning/trimming would prevent a total jungleclipse (where the plants grow so rapidly, intertwining to the point that finding any fruit/produce is a huge challenge). Of course, the place didn’t even look like it had been trimmed by the time I got back. But the gems hidden in the foliage were well-worth searching for.

I’m finding the same thing with the current novel I’m working on (Abby Crumb and the Night of the Golden Pea). If I leave it alone for more than a day, the story mysteriously grows (in my mind, of course) so when I get back to it, I’m presented with a tangle of characters and plot and description demanding to come forth onto the page. By the time I get it all down, I’m exhausted and not sure what has actually blossomed. But then I start finding the gems and with a little trimming and pruning and transplanting the story bursts forth in full color, ripe and ready to pick! Abby Crumb has taken longer to reach full growth than expected, but is rapidly approaching harvest time.

Jul 25

Balancing Act

20160724_091717[1]This is Fred. Charlie’s cousin. Charlie appeared in last week’s post, but was too busy to pose this week, so Fred stepped in.

Working in the greenhouse this past weekend gave me time to reflect on writing (surprise, surprise :). Growing a garden, whether outside or in a greenhouse environment is like any other creative process. You prepare the ground (get an idea, commit “research”), plant the seeds (posterior in chair–write!), wait for a bit as the seeds sprout (wonder whether or not what you’ve written is good), eliminate the weeds and nurture the new growth (edit/redraft/first reader), harvest the bounty (turn story/novel loose on the world!).

And along the way there are those who will hinder–aka aphids, spider mites, ground squirrels (critics, especially those inner critics)–and those who will help (praying mantis, lady bugs (true fans).

Being successful involves letting the helpful be helpful and determining a way to lessen the impact of the hinderers.

I used to freak out at the first sign that something harmful was in the greenhouse. Happened again just a few weeks ago, when we found the spider mites spinning their nasty little webs. Tiny critters, yes, but they can cause massive destruction. Time to race down to the nursery and load up on ladybugs, order praying mantis cocoons…

Then I started seeing ladybugs and praying mantis — Nature balancing the good with the bad.

This next few months will see more of my writing “come to light.”

FR-Visions-of-the-Apolcalypse-ebook-cover-web1

Visions of the Apocalypse, a Fiction River anthology containing my short story, “The Story That Has To Be Written,” released this past Friday! It is an honor to be in this terrific anthology, edited by the inimitable John Helfers, with fantastic authors like Anthea Sharp, Paul Eckhart, Travis Heerman, and many others! I think this is one of the most difficult stories I’ve ever written and am so pleased that John liked it enough to include in this awesome anthology!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The bundle my short story, “The Girl With the Candy Cane Legs” just appeared in has acquired a second life! Fantasy in the City is still available as a bundle on Amazon, B&N.com, and Kobo, and will be the featured special in the upcoming Kobo special even running Aug. 1 – 5! If you haven’t gotten a copy of this awesome bundle, hop on over to your favorite ebook retailer and pick up a copy now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep an eye out for my new Abby Crumb novel! Abby Crumb and the Night of the Golden Pea is a steampunky, Weird West story filled with wacky characters who find themselves on an adventure that could only happen to Abby Crumb!

Abby will be followed by the first Myrtle Creek novel (co-written with son, Brandon)– The Thirteenth Alchemist. Myrtle made his first appearance in Fiction River’s Alchemy & Steam, published last year.

Both novels have been slowly growing over the past several years and are finally ready to see the light of day! Bringing them to life has been a real balancing act — balancing the “it ain’t no good” inner critic with the “this is great” inner fan. So many times the inner critic has come close to winning. I have finally gathered positive comments from outside sources to help get through those questioning times.

Gardening and writing — both take time, effort, and, sometimes, a little blood. Both definitely worthwhile!

 

 

 

Jul 19

No Coincidences

greenhouse companionNo such thing as coincidence. Recent experience put the lie to that statement (an experience that has nothing to do with the critter to the left :).

Mechanicals and I tend to live in awe of each other. I look at something mechanical and think, “Awesome!”  The mechanical looks at me and thinks, “Awe, here we go again.”

If there’s a button that shouldn’t be pushed, I’ll somehow manage to push it. Sometimes it seems that all I do is touch a mechanical and something will go wrong — screens go blank, phones magically factory-reset themselves … whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. I’ve come to expect it and — apparently — anticipate my own culpability.

Case in point — a few days ago, I plugged in the coffeepot and started working. I’d barely gotten started on a writing project, when Blam! my monitor went black.

What the heck had I done now? Mind racing through all the nasty possibilities — virus, bad hard drive, etc ad nauseum — I called for my live-in tech. Brandon’s already up and checking out things (which should have been a flag) and hubby Jim mumbles something from downstairs. Meanwhile, I’m freaking out, trying to remember when I did my last backup (no, I’m not a perfect backup artist 🙂 and Brandon’s going, “It’s okay, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

What do you mean it’s okay? Of course, I did something…whatever that thing might be. My computer…

At this point, I should probably point out that our electrical system is not like most other people’s. We live off the grid and use solar as our primary source of power. Which means we have to be careful how much we plug it at the same time. Turns out that Jim had turned on the laser printer at the same time the coffeepot was trying to heat up water and blew the circuit breaker.

So, amazingly enough, I really had nothing to do with the blank monitor.

Coincidences really do happen.

I was tearing out weeds in the greenhouse when I came across this little fella (or little miss – not sure how to tell the difference). We’ve worked for years to get beneficials established and I’d thought it was an impossible task. We’d bring in praying mantis cocoons and bags of ladybugs and next thing I knew, the bugs were headed outside any way they could get there. We’re just seeing signs of aphids and spider mites. Time to pick up more ladybugs — and then I find this lovely praying mantis (who really does not appreciate my watering habits :). Also found ladybugs in the same area — the weeds. Now I just have to figure out how to entice them into the greenery the aphids and spider mites seem to love!

Definitely a surprise to find beneficials in the greenhouse — definitely not a coincidence!

 

Jul 11

Making of a Blob

 

Brandon had the chance to use a friend’s 3-D printer (in exchange for fixing it :). Ran through several test runs, but finally came up with something identifiable — a blob! (Working off the illustration he’s created for “Jelly’s Heroes”)

Just like anything else creative, the first go was very rough; the second go ended up in the trash, but the third time was the proverbial charm! At least it’s identifiable. A little makeup and … imagination 🙂

Meet Yawn!

 

 

blob-3D-1 blob-3D-2 blob-3D-3 blob-3D-5

Jul 08

Short Story — Just Because

SnapATrapIncMain-v1

What do trolleys, bananas, and impudent fairies have in common? A fairy hunter named Zola and her newest blind date: Milton B. Flannigan, III. Unfortunately, dear old Miltie isn’t everything he’s been made out to be. He’s more. Then again, so is Zola. Find out just how wrong a date can go in this laugh-out-loud tale from the streets of San Francisco.

 


Snap-A-Trap, Inc.

(Copyright 2016 Louisa Swann; Originally published in Mystery Dates, a DAW anthology edited by Denise Little)

San Francisco, California.  A city that’s been shaken more times than a Double-O martini and lived to brag about it.

The city was shaking again today, but it wasn’t the Big One everyone was waiting for.  Just enough of a shaker to make my current position—head and shoulders wedged under a wrought iron bench—rather uncomfortable.

No need to brace myself.  The shake, rattle, and roll faded away like a disappointed sigh, carrying with it the fear of 750,000 residents.

Oh, well.  There’s always next time.

Right now I had a job to do.  The same job I’d been doing for hundreds of years—catch mischievous faeries and send them back over the rainbow where they belong.

I’d survived tsunamis, Mark Twain, and the stock market crash.  Quakes were no big deal—except for days like today when I was out on a hunt.  Tremors sent my quarry skittering for cover.  One breath they were there; the next breath they were gone.

I could swear I heard a giggle as I shoved myself further under the bench.  Concrete bruised my knees and a pebble dug into my palm.  Would’ve been easier to stretch out my legs, but the current flow of skateboards, roller blades, and dog owners jogging down the sidewalk turned a simple leg-stretching into a death wish.

The stench of dead fish and rotting seaweed permeated the still fog.  The park I’d chosen as hunting ground this morning was only a hop, skip, and jump from the bay.  If I held my breath and listened, I could hear waves lapping against the Fort Mason piers.

The bushes in front of me giggled again.

I ignored the urge to slip an extra hand or two free of their corseted bondage.  Ten hands – all mine.  A veritable cornucopia of handiness.  You’d think folks could appreciate all those hands, especially the guys, but noooo.  All the men I’d tried to hook up with over the years had a thing about my appendages.  Too many of them.

In this city known for its tolerance, I’m the only one who doesn’t fit in.

Go figure.

I inched forward far enough to move the trap baited with ginger—faerie folk couldn’t resist the pungent root—into position, and started to slide my left hand into the stiff, thorn-laden bush growing wild against the bench.

This was it.  The decisive moment.  Hunter against hunted. Trapper against trappee . . .

Reggae music burst forth from the jacket tied around my waist, scaring the beejeezus out of both predator and prey.

Cell phones.  The curse of humankind.

“Hell’s bells!”  I shoved my hand deep into the bushes, hoping against hope to find the critter I’d been chasing half the morning frozen into a mound of quivering faerie jelly.

No such luck.

Another round of reggae beat its way through the fog-laden air.

“Phone’s ringing.”

The phone I could ignore.  The breath—pungent as an overripe fruit stall—I could tolerate.

But that voice—that smoke-laced, whiskey-sodden, I’m-dying-tomorrow voice coming only inches from my ear—sent me leaping clean out of my skin.  Figuratively speaking of course.  There was nothing figurative about the pain bulleting through my skull as flesh and bone smashed into the underside of the wrought iron bench.

“Ouch!”

Definitely the wrong move.

I rebounded from the head bump only to discover a hunk of fog-frizzed hair—my fog-frizzed hair—had glued itself to a McKinley-sized mound of used gum.  From the feel of the wad imprisoning hair to bench, park goers had been making contributions to this particular repository for years . . . decades . . . eons.

The phone blared another round of reggae.  Too bad I couldn’t find the darn thing—I’d heave it all the way from here to the Bay.

“You want me to get that for you?”

Who was this guy and was he talking about the phone or my hair?

“I’m fine, thanks.”  The only thing visible from my rather awkward position was bushes, concrete, and a pair of oversized penny loafers.

Again with the reggae.

Time to go cell phone diving.

Whatever I chose as cell phone transporter—purse, pockets, even a holster on my belt—became this bottomless gorge the minute I dropped my cell phone in.  Digging in my left pocket resulted in nothing but fifty more strands of hair being sacrificed to the goddess of used gum.

“I think it’s on the other side.”

A creepy-crawly insects-on-my-skin feeling wrapped itself cocoon-style from my head to my toes.  Who was this guy anyway?  Commuter?  Tourist?  Street person looking to spread out on my bench?

“Thanks,” I said through gritted teeth.  Rapidly shifting hands, I checked out my right pocket.

“Maybe I could try to move the bench?”

“A wrought-iron bench bolted to a car-size slab of concrete?  I don’t think so.”  If that guy decided to give his plan a try, however, underneath the bench was not the prime place to be.  I abandoned the cell phone search, shifted into reverse, and shoved both hands against the concrete.  A fist-size tangle parted from my head as my nether parts gained momentum.  Then I was sitting on my derriere staring up at the longest pair of legs I think I’ve ever seen.

The guy actually had the temerity to clap.

I leapt off the sidewalk quicker than a monkey on speed, twisted my ankle, and landed—in a sitting position—on the bench I’d just been imprisoned under.  Not a bad move, though totally unintentional.

I dug the phone out of my pocket, and crammed it to my ear.

“This is not a good time,” I said, trying to decide whether ankle, head, or bottom end hurt more.

“You’re supposed to be home, not out gallivanting around,” Fifi said.  “He’s going to be at your apartment any minute.”

Oops.

“I’m running errands,” I lied.  I didn’t want to be home right now.  Being home meant meeting the man my sister thought was ‘Mister Right.’

Then again, she thought every man was Mr. Right.

I chewed my lip and scanned the guy standing way too close in front of me.  Halfway through the toe-to-head visual review something popped in my neck.  This was no ordinary man, no way.  This guy was a giant.

Not that I was jaundiced or anything.  Tall people, not sorta tall—really, really tall—have always intimidated me and not just because I can barely see myself in the bathroom mirror.  I grew up around small.  Small is good.  Small is beautiful.

I tried to back away, but the bench held me prisoner.  Ignoring the guy didn’t work.  Every time I looked away, my eyes looked back.

He smelled of yesterday’s fruit salad and fog, not a bad combination.  Even with damp, tousled hair and a day-old beard, the guy was more than good-looking.  He was . . . elegant.

Not a word I thought I’d use to describe any member of the human race.  But there was something about the guy in front of me that lent itself to the description.  Dark hair.  Long, but not horsey, jaw line.  High cheekbones.  Deep-set hazel eyes more green than brown.

And a smile broad and innocent as a kid’s.

My heart kicked into overdrive about the same time something sucked my lungs dry.  Talk about tunnel vision.  For a long—make that very long—moment no one else existed.

Then Hunk-a-Chunk broke the spell.

He climbed onto the bench and started pulling gum from my hair.  The fog horn sounded a melancholy note as spearmint-enriched bubblegum added a special tang to the dead fish and gingerfied air.

“Look.”  I reached up with my free hand.  Tried to grab the persistently plucking hand.  “I prefer picking at my own hair.”

“Excuse me?” my sister said.

“Nothing,” I said, juggling the phone while glaring over my shoulder.  The guy kept grinning and picking.  “Quit!”

“Who are you talking to?  You’re out hunting again, aren’t you?”

Oops twice.

“No,” I said, way too fast.  “I told you.  I’m . . . running . . . errands.”

I slapped the guy’s hand.  He drew back, a puzzled look on his too-handsome face.

Time to make like a banana and split.  I tried to stand up and failed miserably.  Something about a giant hanging onto my hair.

“Don’t worry,” I said to the phone.  “I’m just a few blocks from the apartment.”

“You can’t fool me.  I’m your sister.  You’re out on a hunt,” Fifi said.  “You mess up this dating thing again and we’ll be sent packing.  Illegal aliens are not in vogue right now.  They’re looking for any excuse to get rid of us.”

“Enough already, Sis-O-Mine.  I won’t mess up.  Not this time.  I promise.”  Didn’t matter that we’d been in this country for years—hell, we’d been here before there was a country—Fifi and I were aliens, born and raised just the other side of the rainbow.  With new immigration laws being bounced around government halls, Fifi was convinced that if I didn’t get married to a local citizen soon, we’d be headed back home.

Thing is—neither one of us could remember anyplace but the Bay.  San Francisco was home.  We couldn’t get deported.

Neither one of us would survive.

But staying meant marrying a human.  The very thought made me shudder.

Fifi had no problems snuggling with humans.  She would’ve jumped into the marriage bed with all four paws.  And that was the problem.  My big sister was a dog—literally.  At least in this world.  The City was tolerant of religion, politics, and sexual preferences, but we both had a feeling the good citizens would draw the line at human/dog relations.

That left the marrying part up to me.  I’d been around humans too long to want to marry one of them, especially with their extra-hand-a-phobia, but at least I looked human.  Sort of.

What felt like another hundred strands of hair twanged from my skull.  I whirled around and found myself staring into a pair of emerald-flecked eyes.  Hunk-a-chunk tipped his head sideways and gave me a quizzical look.

“Gotta go.” I flipped the phone closed and forced a smile, dragging my hair from its fleshy prison.

“Nice meeting you,” I said to the tall man.  “We’ll have to do this again sometime.”

* * *

I raced into my apartment at ten o’clock straight up.  I’d made it on time.  But was I ready?

A quick check of the apartment made sure everything was in order.  I tried to see the place through the eyes of a stranger and decided my particular decorating style was eclectic: a little bit of a lot of stuff.  Everything else—carpet, wall paper, linoleum—was pure seventies.

Just the way I liked it.

Fifi had made the dating arrangements via Internet.  She’d even done a background check on my date.  I hadn’t seen his file, but she’d sworn on her favorite bone he was “the man of my dreams.”  I wasn’t so sure.  I’d put off the big event for a month to take Internet self-defense classes.

I took a deep breath.

No more delay tactics.  Fifi was right.  If we were going to stay in the City and not get shipped out with all the human illegals, it was time to rock and roll.

I glanced down at the fingers waving through the shirt I’d somehow managed to tear.  Holey shirt, dirt-stained jeans . . .  On second thought, maybe I should call the guy and cancel.  Make up some story about being mugged in the park.

The doorbell rang.  Twice.

Trapped.

No way could I let my date see me like this.  Too much of the wrong parts of me showed, a repair that was going to take more than simply changing my shirt.

“Just a minute,” I hollered as I made my way down the hall to the bathroom.  Maybe this guy would give up and go away while I made myself presentable.

I hopped up on the step stool, took one look at the wreck in the mirror, and groaned.  Must’ve been my lucky day.  The mirror didn’t crack.

The doorbell rang again.

Quickly I grabbed a bottle of foundation and went to work.  The right makeup can do wonders for a girl.

All it takes is a little time.

* * *

When I finally opened the front door, there was no one standing outside.  Relief hit hard and fast, so fast I almost had to sit down.  Along with that relief, however, was a twinge of disappointment so small I refused to acknowledge it.

A quick glance up the hall, just to make sure I was giving a proper report to Fiji—I’m sorry, dear, but the man must’ve been sick or something—then another glance down the hall . . .

Oops.  One too many glances.

Sitting in the window box overlooking California Street was the guy from the park.

Before I recovered my senses and ducked back inside, he turned and saw me.

“Hi.”  He hopped off the window box, swung a knapsack onto his shoulder, and strode down the hall, long legs eating up the distance between us like it never existed.

Suddenly he was close.

Too close.

“How did you . . . ?”

The truth slammed home like a lightning bolt—he’d followed me home.

I was being stalked.

A quick scan of the musty, orange-carpeted hall showed no neighbors sticking their noses into my business for a change.  There wasn’t even a sign of my delinquent date.  Of all times for this place to go silent.

“Sorry.  Wrong apartment.”  I slipped inside and tried to slam the door.  Not easy with a six- foot-five-inch stop between door and jam.  Talk about intimidation factor.

“Sorry,” I said to the guy stuck in my door.  “You’re going to have to leave.  Someone’s coming . . .”

“Company?” the guy asked.  He wedged the door open another inch.  “I like company.”

The only weapon at hand was the cell phone I’d clipped to my belt.  I glanced around the living room.  Might be able to whap him with a gooseneck lamp and damage his knee cap or something.

Some people chew their nails when they get nervous.  Some fiddle.  Others talk too much.  Me?  I sweat bullets.  We’re not talking damp armpits here.  In less than five minutes I look like I just stepped out of the shower.

And I was more than a little nervous.  I was on the flip-side of panic mode.  As a result, the fresh blouse I’d exchanged for the torn t-shirt was starting its river run.

Normally this embarrassed the heck out of me.  In this particular instant—embarrassment became idea.

“Excuse me.  I think I need some air.”  I backed away from Stalkerman, dashed through the living room and into the kitchen.  Unfortunately the window refused to cooperate with my impromptu escape plan.

The sound of feet whispering on seventies linoleum drew my attention away from the window and back to my intruder.  He was standing in the kitchen doorway, a curious look on his face.

“Come on,” I muttered to the window.  I grunted and hissed and otherwise made a complete ass of myself, but the window wouldn’t budge.

Then he was behind me.  My pulse skidded and came to a complete stop.

This was it.  I was dead meat.

I could feel myself uncurling from the inside out.  I couldn’t beat the guy to death with the cell phone and the knife drawers were at least five feet away.  But I could always resort to the weapon of last choice—I could throttle him with my bare hands.

All ten of them.

I spun around as the stalker put his arms around me.  Now was my chance, but he was so close there was no way to free hands from corset.  He bent low.  Exhaled fruity breath in my face.  Pressed hard against me.  And grunted.

I closed my eyes.

“There.”  Stalkerman stepped back and grinned.

Cool air pooled against my back, spilling down my legs to the floor.  I sagged backward—out the now open window.

“Uh, thanks.”  Without hesitation I climbed onto the fire escape, spun around and slammed the window closed.  Then I slumped against the railing and fanned myself with fog.

Nice fog.  Gorgeous fog.  The kind that oozed through the window as it kinked my hair into a thousand curls.

Ah.

I unclipped my phone and flipped it open.  Time to bring in the troops.  But before I could press the 911 speed dial, the traitorous bit of technology spouted another round of reggae.

Fifi.

Talking to a live sister was better than sitting on hold waiting for emergency services to pick up so I answered.

“There’s a stranger in my kitchen!” I glanced inside at the stalker.  He’d gone over to the kitchen counter and was rifling through the drawers.  One by one he held my cutting knives to the light, carefully examined their blades, and laid them on the counter in a neat line of gleaming death.

“Terrific!”  Fifi sounded more excited than I’d heard her in years.  “How’s it going?”

“I don’t think you get it.”  I tried to staunch the nervous sweat tickling my sides.  “There’s a strange man in my kitchen.”

“Relax.  You’re just nervous.  You know how you get when you’re nervous.”

“I’m not nervous . . . Well, I am nervous . . . but not for the reason you think.  There’s this guy . . .”

“Take a deep breath.”

A scrape caught my attention.  I turned around and felt my eyes go wide as the stalker climbed through the window.  Hadn’t taken him long to figure out the lock only worked on the inside.

“He’s coming out,” I whispered to Fifi.  Talk about panic.  Trapped on a fire escape.  An iron rail around an iron grate with iron ladders.  Great place to come face to face with a stalker.

There were only two ways I could get away from this man – up or down—and neither seemed particularly inviting.  Especially in this fog.

“Hi,” I said to Stalkerman.  I pointed at the phone.  “I’ll be done here in a minute.”

He looked at me without saying a word.  A row of goose bumps climbed up my spine, the kind of chill that had nothing to do with the damp air.

Suddenly I was acutely aware of just how high five stories was.  Last night five stories meant an incredible view of the bay.  This morning five stories was a long, long way to fall.

Going splat! on the streets of San Francisco was not my idea of a glorious demise.

Stalkerman moved over to the edge of the fire escape.  Looked up.  Looked down.  Stroked the railing.

My oozing heart seized tight.  “Fifi?  You still there?  Don’t you dare hang up on me.”

Any minute now, I thought.  He’s going to grab me by the waist and fling me over the railing.  “If you hear a sudden scream, call the cops . . .  No, forget the cops.  Call the funeral home.”

I inched my way away from the rail.  There was only one way I was going off that fire escape—back through the kitchen window.

Something down on the street caught Stalkerman’s attention.  I clambered back over the windowsill, dropped the phone on the table, whirled around and slammed the window shut.  A flip of the wrist almost wrenched my hand off, but the lock reluctantly clicked into place.

Then I fell to my knees and kissed that wonderful seventies linoleum—cockroaches and all.

Stalkerman came over to the window and peered inside, a puzzled look on his way-too-handsome face.  He pressed his nose flat against the pane, then twisted his head to one side, like a puppy trying to figure out what he’d done wrong.

I scrambled to my feet, snatched up the phone, and stomped over to the counter.  “I’ve got to go, Fifi.  He’s trapped on the fire escape.  I’ll let you know as soon as the cops get here . . .”

One by one I dropped the knives back into the drawer.  Except the smaller paring knife.  That one I tucked into my handy bosom.  I didn’t think he’d try to break through the window, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared.

“What do you mean, cops?”

I jerked the phone away from my ear.  No turning down the volume on that screech.

“I told you—he’s a stalker.  Now if you don’t mind . . .”

“What does he look like?”

“Excuse me?”

“I said—what does he look like?”

“He’s tall.  Really tall.  All right?  I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait!”

“I’ll let you know when it’s all over.”

* * *

I didn’t bother opening the video file Fifi sent until after the cops arrived.  Surprisingly enough, the stalker didn’t give them any trouble.  His eyes grew wide and sad when they put on the handcuffs, but he didn’t try to struggle.

I bit my lip to keep from blurting out something inane like don’t hurt him.  He’d been stalking me, for Pete’s sake.  Probably with the intent of doing me bodily harm, or worse.

So why this sudden feeling of remorse?

When I caved in two years ago and finally bought a cell, it had to have one option—internet access with video capabilities.  I hadn’t used the internet/video options too many times, but I used it now.  The video provided a distraction while the cops did their thing.

It also proved that my stalker was actually my date.  Milton B. Flannigan, III.

“Oops.”  I flipped the phone closed and held up a hand to stop the cops.  They looked like twins in their blue-on-blue uniforms.  Both of them rested their fists on overloaded utility belts and frowned.

“Sorry,” I said.  “Looks like I may have the wrong guy.”

The cop on the left shrugged.  “You sure?  Maybe we should take him downtown. Make sure he checks out.”

“I’m not going to press charges,” I said, more to my used-to-be-stalker than to the cop.  I held up the cell phone so the cop could get the picture.  “See?  Says right here.  Milton B. Flannigan, III.  The guy’s a Wall Street wiz.  It also says this guy’s dad is some kind of big wig judge.”

That got the cop’s attention.

“Judge Flannigan?”  He looked Stalkerman over as if seeing him for the first time.  “No way.  I’ve known the judge for over ten years.  Never saw this guy before.”

“I suppose you’re close to the judge,” I said with a shrug.  “With all the dinners and birthdays and such you’ve attended together, I’m sure you would’ve met his son.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the cop stretch his neck as if his collar had suddenly shrunk a size or two.  His twin-in-blue raised an eyebrow.

Milton B. Flannigan, III, bless his heart, hadn’t said a word during the entire exchange.  He just stood there, looking confused and innocent.

I gave him a wink.  Good boy.

The cop pulled a set of keys off his belt, unlocked the handcuffs, and shook Flannigan’s hand.  “Nice to meet you, son.  Tell your dad I said hi.”

Stalkerman nodded.  “Nice to meet you.”

The twins headed out the door without another word, missing the next little piece of action.

Milton B. Flannigan, III—son of a judge and Wall Street wiz—stuck out his not-so-elegant tongue.

* * *

As soon as we were alone I took my date’s hand and led him out to the kitchen.  I walked as nonchalantly as possible to the sink, filled a glass with water, and swallowed it like a shot of whiskey.

Fortified by chlorine I braced myself against the counter and turned, coming face to button with Milty’s chest.  I looked up, up, up.  “What do you say we start over?  My name’s Zola.”

“Pleased to meet you.  My name is Chip.  How about a kiss?”

The speech sounded too canned to be offensive.

“No kissing on the first date,” I said.  Maybe his being so tall wasn’t bad.  He’d closed his eyes to deliver the kiss and ended up smacking the air overhead.

Looked like my date was loosening up.

The cell phone sang its reggae beat.

Fifi.  Again.

The woman’s timing was impeccable.

“I really think you’re gonna like this guy.  He’s just your type.”

Yeah, right.

“Fifi,” I said between gritted teeth.  “He’s tall.”

“So?  He’s got money.”

I could almost see my sister’s chin get all pointy and stubborn.

“Yeah, he’s got money,” I said, “but that doesn’t get him positive points in my book.  He’s likely to be stretched tighter than your collar at Christmas.”

“You’re just being a prude.  He checks out just fine,” Fifi said.  “I got a file on the guy.  Remember?”

How could I forget?

“And he’s not that tall—only six-six,” Fifi said, with an accusing note that made my hair stand on end.  “Come on.  You promised.”

I really wasn’t that convinced this was going to be a match made in heaven.  I wasn’t even sure this was going to be a match made in Frisco . . . uh, the City.

Fifi started to go on, but suddenly I wasn’t paying attention.

Milton had discovered the water faucet.  His fascination with flowing water almost matched my fascination with his fascination.

“Zola?  Are you listening to me?”

I tore my gaze from the gorgeous hunk at the sink and turned to look out the window.

That’s when I saw her.

The same blasted faerie who’d escaped my trap earlier.  She flipped her lavender wings.  Then she turned and wiggled her tiny faerie butt.

Nobody, especially a faerie, can wiggle their butt at me and get away with it.

“Gotta go, Fifi.”  I shut the cell phone, stuffed it in my pocket, and grabbed Milton’s arm.

“Come on,” I said as I pried open the window.  “You and me are going on a date.”

* * *

“Zoo.”

Chip swung his to-drool-over body back inside the cable car and plopped down beside me on the wooden bench.  I’d given up hanging off the side of the trolley like a tourist years ago, but monkeyman couldn’t get enough.  He settled the knapsack—he’d insisted on going back for the ratty thing—between us, then stared at me.

“The zoo is that way.”  I pointed southwest.  Then I pointed east.  “We’re headed that way.”

“I want to see my mom,” Chip said.  I took a deep breath, glanced up the hill to make sure the faerie was still on her original course.  The little witch was taunting me.  No other explanation for her cruising so blatantly up the hill.

No matter.  I’d go where she led.  Then I’d snap her tiny bedonkadonk into one of my traps.

“Look, Milton . . .”

He shook his head.  “Chip.”

“Okay—Chip.  How about we save the ‘mom’ thing for later?  After we get to know each other better.”

Maybe this guy was a half pint short of full, but he was definitely easy on the eyes.  If you ignored the height thing, that is.  His face brightened like a kid who’s been handed an ice cream.

“How about a kiss?”

Gads, did the guy have one thing on his mind or what?

No time to ponder the kissability issue.  The faerie had evidently reached her stop.

* * *

Unfortunately, said faerie didn’t believe in waiting for the cable car.  The car lurched forward as I grabbed Chip’s hand, tugged him to his feet, and jumped.

Landing on pavement was a little tough on the ankle I’d wrenched that morning, but I managed to stay upright.

So did Chip.

“Good job.”  I decided against trying to reach his shoulder and patted his elbow instead.  “Let’s go.”

The faerie darted on ahead, weaving around corners and dodging down alleys.  We ignored blaring horns and cursing drivers, keeping up without much problem until she paused just long enough for me to realize where we were headed.

Coit Tower.

The rounded edifice loomed above landscaped apartments.  Unfortunately we were on the east side of Telegraph Hill.

Where no roads dared to go.

A tiny giggle drifted through the air, punctuated by the sound of barking sea lions drifting up through the fog.

Then the faerie, wings fluttering merrily, headed straight uphill.

* * *

By the time we made it to the top Chip looked like he’d just strolled around the block, but I was a wreck.  He’d practically carried me the last hundred feet or so.  My short legs weren’t meant for climbing that many stairs.

“Thanks,” I gasped, almost choking on the scent of übersweet honeysuckle blooming at my right elbow.  “Not much of a date, huh?”

Chip shrugged.  “It’s fun.”

Darned if the guy wasn’t growing on me.  Not only did he have killer looks, he didn’t mind chasing faeries all over town.  Maybe I could overlook the tallness factor.

A gray-haired man with an equally gray-haired woman stepped up onto the landing.  They hadn’t even broken a sweat.

I forced a grin and tried not too look soggy.

“Morning,” the man said.

“Morning,” the woman echoed.  Her polite smile turned to a startled frown as she passed by.  I glanced down at the finger poking out of my cleavage and quickly shoved the offending bit of flesh back where it belonged.  I glanced at Chip, hoping he hadn’t noticed.

No such luck.

“Sorry,” I said to the woman.  She huffed and turned away.

No use asking if she’d seen a faerie flitting about.

I thought about confessing all to Chip right then and there, but a funny sensation took hold in my chest.  I couldn’t face his rejection.

Not now.

“Let’s go.”

The puzzled look disappeared from Chip’s face as I plodded on.  We circled Coit Tower twice.  Didn’t find a trace of the little imp who’d led us on this wild faerie chase.

Chip seemed inclined to go wherever I led, curiously studying each residence, bush, and tree as we passed by.

Except for one place—Stairway to Heaven.

Looked like a clinic of some sort.  His eyes got all big and round and sad again when he saw the place.  It was the only time he insisted on going another direction.

The next time we reached the landing I stopped.  Somewhere far below in the fog a car door slammed.  I shook my head, reluctant to admit the bratty little faerie had escaped once again.  “We’ve covered every inch of this hill and we’re still going in circles.”

Chip pointed at a bush about ten feet away.  The dark green foliage was covered with lavender blooms.

“Time to run,” he said as I tried to figure out what he was pointing at.

One of the blooms giggled and took off downhill—the same way we’d come up.

* * *

After a hop, skip, and a bus ride we ended up on a small beach—rocks and sand giving way to grass and big, leafy trees.  A walkway fronted part of the bay.  Posts strung with heavy rope attempted to keep children and adults back from the water’s edge on the steeper side.  Everyone seemed to ignore the posts, scrambling under and between the ropes to scamper over the riprap, flicking fishing poles high to send baited hook as far out as possible, or exploring the nooks and crannies to see what goodies other fishermen or the sea had left behind.

The salt-laden air helped ease the headache I’d picked up during our long trek uphill.  Down here at the beach I was almost back to normal.

Almost.

That’s when I saw her.  A tiny faerie no bigger than my thumb standing on the back of a nearby bench.

“Ssshhhh!”  I took hold of Chip’s arm and motioned for him to duck down behind a scrawny bush.  My traps were all back at the apartment, but that was okay.  I’d caught these little buggers barehanded before.

Fifi was right about one thing—I lived for the hunt.

Time lost all meaning when I was hot on a trail.  My heart rate picked up.  Breathing quickened.  Everything outside my peripheral vision blurred into frozen slush.

I made my move, darting a hand in front of the faerie.  She leapt backward as I predicted.  My other hand was already in place.  Her wings flapped furiously as she tried to get airborne, but I was too fast for her.

Left, right, up, down.  The faerie tried every which way except the way that would guarantee her freedom.

Straight at me.

Instead she bolted downward, probably thinking she could duck under my grasp.

Wrong move.  I snaked out a few extra hands and snatched the little imp right out of the air.

“Wow!”  Chip clapped.

I jumped so hard I almost lost my hard-won prize.  The faerie shivered in my hands.  I reached around behind me.  Snatched Chip by the collar and pulled him around where I could see him.

“You didn’t see this,” I said, waving my unoccupied hands in the air.  Kids’ screams of delight echoed from the parking lot.  Another family headed for the beach.

I held out the faerie.  “Here.  Take her.  And don’t let her go.  That’s my next month’s rent you’re holding.”

Chip cradled the faerie tenderly in his big hands while I shoved my extra flesh back into place.

Careless of me to forget myself like that.

Reggae time.  I studied Chip’s expression as I yanked the cell phone from my belt.

“Yeah?”

“There’s been a mix up.  Your date, Milton Flannigan, III, you see, he’s not really good old Milty . . . well, he is, but he isn’t . . .”

“Calm down, Fifi.  I know he doesn’t like to be called Milton . . .”

“That’s just it.  He’s not Milton.  At least not mentally.”

Okay, this was definitely weird.  I’d never heard my sister so upset.

“That stay in the hospital?  Well, he lost his mind.  Literally.”

Great.  No wonder he was such a loon.

“So, who am I running around town with?”

“His name is Chip.  He’s the resident anthropologist’s chimpanzee.  The chimp was in the process of kicking the bucket when Milton’s mind went kaput.  Guess who the anthro’s girlfriend is?  Milton’s psychiatrist.  Biddabing!”

“But . . . he talks.”  Duh.

“Seems Chip’s been going to school, taking English as a second language, stuff like that.  He graduated last weekend and hasn’t been seen since.  The psychiatrist finally called, wondering if he’d shown up for his date.  Guess they thought dating was the next step in Chip’s adjusting to his new humanity.  They’ve been looking everywhere for the guy . . . uh . . . chimp.”

Okay.

“Thanks, Sis.”  I snapped the cell phone closed and turned back to Chip.  A light breeze drifted off the bay, lifting a strand of dark hair from his face.  He looked at me with those big hazel eyes . . .

Then he opened his hands and let the faerie go.

Men have died for less.

But Chip wasn’t a man.

Looked like there was gonna be some adjusting to do.  I took Chip’s hand, climbed up on the bench, and looked him in the eye.

“It’s okay this time that you let her go.  I didn’t have a place to put her anyway.  But it’s how we make our living, capiche?  It’s what we do.  If you’re gonna stick around, you’d better get used to it.”

Chip turned away and fumbled around in his knapsack.

“A chimp,” I muttered, watching the muscles ripple under his shirt.  “Who’d’ve thought?”

Time to test the mating waters.  A quick glance up and down the beach showed the intruding family occupied down at the water’s edge.  I slipped a third hand out of my shirt.  Reached across and stroked Chip’s arm.

The man/chimp glanced at my hand.

“Cool,” he said.  Then he held out a banana—freshly peeled.  Why did I get the feeling that accepting a peeled banana from a chimp was like accepting an engagement ring?

Maybe it was time, I decided, staring out at the Golden Gate.  The fog had thinned enough I could see most of the way across the bay.  A patch of blue sky opened overhead, revealing the bridge in all its glory.

There were three reasons I’d stayed in San Francisco all these years.

The view—Oh, how I loved that Golden Gate.

The faeries.  A girl’s got to make a living somehow.

I slid an arm around Chip’s waist.  Took the banana from his hand and . . .

. . . took a big bite.

Delicious.

Reason number three for staying in San Francisco?

The food.

Of course.

~~~* * *~~~

Jul 04

Week 2 of Bundled-Up and The Adventures of Parent-Sitting

Actually, this particular parent-sitting episode has gone smoothly. Dad is 91, Mom is 83. They both need someone around as Dad’s balance is shot as is Mom’s back. My sister is their live-in caregiver. She’s also a fabulous wildlife artist. I stepped in to help while she tends her booth at a local art fair. Check out her work at http://petportraitsplus.8k.com/.

Carroll-colt

The “adventure” has been staying connected with what’s going on with the Fantasy in the City bundle-wise and getting back into writing mode while in parent-sitting mode. Talk about multitasking!

The bundle might not be flying off the shelf, but sales are steady and Jamie Ferguson, the curator and a fellow author, is doing some fun things, like author profiles (the good kind of profiling 🙂 on the bundle’s very own Facebook page!

As far as the writing, things are progressing — I’ll have news on upcoming stories and novels in the next post.

Now it’s time to make dinner!

 

 

 

 

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