Tenacity, the True Grit (A prompt challenge, steampunk, enemy@the gate, secret tunnel tale)

SteampunkThe sound grew from a hissing to a whistle and then a hot puff of smoke blew in the mechanic’s face. A silence filled the tight space. Grog laughed at Cleo’s wrinkled up nose and she raised her goggles, leaving a ring of pale brown skin around her eyes.

“Darn you Grog, what’s so funny? You don’t want to stay down here all night do you?”

Grog tried to muffle his mirth with his work gloved hands. He shook his head, because he didn’t trust himself to speak.

“We can’t stay here much longer we’ll run out of power and light, besides there are hungry people waiting.”

“You’re right,” he said, after a moment passed. “We do need to get back to base with these supplies.”

She nodded, and snapped her goggles back in place as she continued tinkering with the intake valve. Because gas and oil had disappeared, the survivors returned to machines of old. Coal and wood were the fuels of choice. Down under they had to bring fuel with them—for cooking, for light, for operating anything mechanical.

“Guess we’re lucky the miners left these old tunnels, and we were able to use the remains of their trains.”

Cleo snapped, “Well if we hadn’t destroyed the surface we wouldn’t have to seek shelter underground.”

“We do spend some time up on top when we are moving to avoid the cold weather and seeking food. It’s just to avoid predators that we hide under here,” Grog grumbled.

“Well and if we have to be under here, it’s nice having these tunnels as an alternative escape route and for access to resources!” Cleo always tried to focus on the upside.

Grog responded, “Well If there was a mechanical problem with an engine, you’re the one I would want to be stuck with, you’re the best.”

Cleo could tinker with a cranky engine, gentle, coaxing, listening, and under her nimble fingers she would work her magic. She could talk to machines.

Grog held the light while she worked. It was just the two of them on this supply run.

He continued their conversation always chatting more than Cleo liked. “Why do you think the Nightwalkers prey on us, why can’t they just find their own food and stuff?”

Sometimes Cleo would respond, sometimes her forehead would be wrinkled up while she concentrated hard and she would ignore him. “Men always want to take from weaker people, makes them feel powerful. Pass me that needle nosed pliers would you?”

“One day I would like to see us peaceful kind of people stand up to them!” Grog watched her focus and heard her chuckle gently, “Haven’t we had enough violence yet?” He sighed and was silent.

Cleo added, “With our ragtag bunch of underfed men, women and children, what do you think would be the outcome of that Grog?”

Grog’s ears perked up as he heard sound. There it was, a slow chugging pressure building up, music to his ears.

“Oh Cleo, you are a true sorceress!”

“Grog, please, you could have done the same and besides it’s my job.”

“Cleo, I just meant in relationship to machines, you have the magic. Why can’t you accept a compliment?” said Grog.

She rolled her eyes.

He had turned away, but she knew he was smiling. Grog threw his thumbs up in the air and headed to the front of the train.

Cleo made sure all the readouts were good, stoked the engine with more wood, and took her spot in the back near the engine. Soot covered Cleo, except for her eyes hidden behind the goggles. She’d scraped her kinky black hair back and tucked it inside a warm hat. Winter neared on the surface and under the earth the dampness made it feel colder. She pulled the chain attached to Grog’s seat up front, letting him know they were about to move. No old fashioned whistles for them anymore–who knew who was listening? The wire attached to Grog’s seat, allowed her to Morse Code directly to his hand grips.

The train inched forward and the motion of the engines and wheels released the stress out of Cleo’s neck and shoulders. The families at base camp were waiting. They’d gotten lucky and the large wiggling bag, sitting in the cargo area, was quite a prize. If they could feed everyone while they waited for danger to pass, maybe the Nightwalkers would get bored and move to an easier target.

Cleo knew Grog’s eyes were closed now, enjoying the feel of air across his face, that’s why he always claimed the front seat. They slowly chugged up the slight incline back to their fall weather hideout, the ache in her healed wrist told her it was time to move on, hopefully soon. She worried about what Grog had said earlier. “Why do we keep taking new people, it’s hard enough to feed and hide what we already have!” She was concerned too.

Light appeared around the corner. Despite frustration with what was a healthy size for their group, home was home. Everyone was gathered, silently watching as they pulled up to the landing. One of the women, standing tall with a long dark braid down her back waved. A bent backed man, his hair white but still thick, with a few wisps of a beard on his chin, greeted them. His almond-shaped eyes took in their loaded cargo area.

“Looks like you’ve had a successful run,” he remarked.

The woman curious asked, “What’s moving in the bag?

Grog jumped from his seat, ran to the cargo area, and grabbed the bag with the live catch. He held it up and loosed the scared rabbits. They scattered in front of the group and went every which way. He knew they wouldn’t get far in their cave. The few children in the group squealed as they pursued them. Just that sound and sight made it all worthwhile.

Organic Green God aka Dogs & Dirt

Organic Green God

Last year we tried to grow some things, just a little rectangular patch in the back yard, along the privacy fence ‘cause it’s the sunniest spot. Broccoli thrived, except in the hottest months, one plant even outlasted our mostly temperate winter. The carrots were a bust, lots of greenery on top, nothing going on down below. Sound familiar? Tomatoes were in large pots and did well at first but then struggled. After replanting them in the ground they made a brief comeback. I picked all the green ones before the first frost, and they definitely reddened up inside a brown paper bag.

The surprise of the season, was the small almost dead cantaloupe plant, Bill brought home from a farmer’s market. It took to the hottest part of the summer like Madison took to the taste of melon. Yes, we did enjoy one. But the second one was nudged off the counter and all I found were spatters of juice, seeds and a small piece of rind. She got even more assertive and started eating tomatoes of the vines, and popping the cantaloupes in the grass before we could pick them. Hmmm, lessons to be learned from our first effort.

This year we got an Aero-garden. Have you seen one, it’s the contraption with lights, a frame, and running water? We decided to get some heirloom seeds off the internet and grow our own plants. It was great to watch, within days the sprouts would start their rise out of the moist sponges that sat in the frame. We slowly would raise the arm that held the lights and add water and nutrients to the base. Spring was chilly. The plants couldn’t stay in the Aero-garden and we wanted to make room for other seeds. Four weeks ago we bought soils and nutrients and sat on the back porch planting the delicate seedlings. There was dirt everywhere and it wasn’t just me being messy. The girls, Madison and her best buddy Dixie, had to stick their noses in everywhere. They are basically just like two toddlers, curious about everything, smell, touch, and into the mouth, how else do you explore your world?

If my parents had asked me to help in the garden growing up, the answer would have been resoundingly NO. Recently, as an adult, I have been finding it soothing, to have dirt under my nails, smudges on my pants, and the smell of soil in my nose. Watered, potted, I babied the plants at first, bringing them in at night, it was still unseasonable chilly in March. And to my surprise, they took, the roots didn’t die. I continued to water, waited, and finally the sun came out to help them grow.

Maybe this weekend, after we turn over the soil and mix in some healthy fresh black stuff, we will think about putting the thriving plants in the ground…but will the soil be warm enough? It’s going to be a bigger space this year, we learned some, but there’s always more to experience. I know we should check the farmer’s almanac or internet. Actually my bigger concern is the 17 year cicadas, will they destroy all that we have done in one 24 hour period? To plant or wait, that is a question. The bigger question that looms over us, is will Madison share any of the bounty with us?

FIFTY IS NIFTY

FIFTY IS NIFTY

FIFTY IS NIFTY
I’m fifty this year, and I have a black eye. No, my boyfriend Bill didn’t slap me around. My dog, who I was securing to a post, did see another dog. She decided to say hello to said dog, and took the post with her. On her way, the post had serious contact with my face. Fifty and I have bruises on my shins from soccer. Half a century old, and my nails are jagged from wall climbing at the gym. I’m a fifty year old mother of three, who the day after yoga climbs out of bed, just a little bit slowly because I’m sore. I still wake up without an alarm clock and it’s never the same time, probably because I never go to bed at a specific hour.

Some days, it’s from exhaustion at 9pm right after I put my nine year old to sleep. Some days, my mind won’t shut down and I sit and journal till my hand cramps or my eyes droop shut. Some days, I get distracted, and stop at my computer to look at a school project, my board fundraising event, a soccer team management issue, or, I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes it’s just regular work. If Bill can’t be there curled up in bed with me, a good night call is the next best thing to close my day.

I am slowing down, it may not seem like it, but I do say no, a bit more often. My older children say they don’t notice, but I do. I’ve come to realize it’s not being busy that matters, but what I am doing and whom I am doing it with, that matters most. Keeping my perspective on life is about balance, I’m working towards it, but I’m not perfect, yet.

Taking things day by day, moment by moment, is the first step. It’s easier now that there’s only one child left at home. Or maybe it’s because I have become wiser or more relaxed. Yesterday, after climbing at the gym with Shane, we came home bushed. It was our last day of Spring Break. We decided, instead of making a full-fledged meal, we would to take the easy route. Opened the refrigerator door wide, looked inside, and started pulling out stuff to hand to my son. First; a slice of pizza wrapped in foil, next a Tupperware of grilled chicken, some bacon from breakfast, finally fresh spinach and carrots. It was a mish mash of food.

We decided to treat ourselves to “dinner and a movie” in the rec room. Normally, we eat in the kitchen, at the counter, sans distractions. Having warmed, assembled and plated our leftovers, we grabbed drinks and headed for the basement. We flipped through the options and rather quickly agreed to watch the Rise of the Guardians. I have no idea what rating Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie, we normally check, but decided to wing it. Living on the edge, it was daring. In between, eating, doing a load of laundry, (I still couldn’t totally let go and be irresponsible) we snuggled, Shane, Madison (the boxer who blackened my eye) and I. We laughed, we were moved, I mean after all it’s a kid’s movie, there have to be educational moments. Didn’t matter that dinner wasn’t perfect, and at 50, I’m not either.

Cyberspace Kate

Cyberspace Kate

April first came and went. Had a fleeting thought that this was the day to play a good trick, but nothing materialized. Way back when, my kids used to be good at playing very complex jokes on family. My own underdeveloped sense of humor though, often prevented me from coming up with ideas. Yesterday, my boyfriend, on Gchat, mentioned that he was sent a link to a Sports illustrated contest. He was all excited and went to complete the online form. The prize was being a participant in the body painting of super model, Kate Upton. Every red blooded male’s wet dream. He hurriedly completed the form and clicked on the SUBMIT button. Instead of the disclaimer letter of, “We have received your entry and you will be notified by April 30th, 2013,”popping up on his laptop, “APRIL FOOLS” filled his computer screen. I may not have enough of a sense of humor to create a great gag, but I LMAO.

Do you have a recollection of joke that was played on you or that you played on someone else that was really the bomb? Do share!

Headhunting, dating and marriage

Headhunting, dating and marriage

For over 20 years I have been an executive recruiter, aka a Headhunter. If I had been born 100 years ago I might have been a “Yenta” or been arranging marriages for young couples. I’ve made a healthy living as a single parent, I was able to pay my mortgage, put two kids through college, and enjoy many interesting experiences.
Today, as I was perusing LinkedIn to find some young professionals for a client, I realized with a start that the emails I was sending were just like the emails you send when you are doing online dating. On Match.com or OK Cupid, when someone’s profile or picture attract your attention, you have some options. You can wink or notice them. You can highlight them to save their profile for later. Or if you are really bold, you can write a cute, interesting but light email to a specific person, in hopes that they will respond to your note.
It’s the same thing when you are using linked in as a recruiting source. You see a profile, some have pictures and some do not, the missing photo is less important for jobs then on dating sites. Then you have to come up with a few snazzy lines to entice someone to respond about a position. Yes, there are definitely similarities to recruiting, dating and marriage. And that’s what made me think of an old comic strip that used to hang in our Executive Search lunch room.
First frame was filled with, “What’s the difference between a first interview and a first date”?
The next frame had young woman sitting in a chair in front of a big desk, dressed in a killer dark suit. The interviewee was responding to the question, “What are you looking for in your next opportunity?” A well turned out businessman, listened to the response with raised eyebrows, seated behind the desk. If the comic strip was animated, the interviewer might have been nodding his head in agreement or the interviewee might have been gesturing with energetic hands. The last frame in this series would be concluded with a business-like shaking of hands.
The following frame had a couple sitting at a table having a glass of wine. The man was sitting up straight, neatly dressed with his hair combed back from his forehead. The young woman had on a flowery dress and she was also sitting on the front portion of her seat, avidly listening, but with no physical contact. They were smiling, the captions above the woman’s head said, “What do you do for a living?” The man responded laughing and then asked the woman, “Where are you from?”
I imagined if there was a second frame in this part of the series there might have been some eye contact as the wine warmed them up, and maybe a spark of interest, that might have encouraged a casual brush of a fingertip against the other person’s hand.
Final frame, “Cause on a first date someone could end up naked!”
I’ve placed professionals successfully into amazing opportunities where they have experienced career growth. I’ve introduced several couples, most are still married. And after being on the dating circuit for several years and now having luckily found my honey, I’d say headhunting is much easier. There is chemistry involved, but no sex that I know of, on the first interview.

“C” is for Coconut

(A Writer’s Digest #49 Prompt, Stranded on island with three items, coconut, mask and dictionary. How would you escape?)

I washed up on shore, the only thing that remained of my underwater gear was my face mask. The air tank had been separated from my back during the storm. I noticed a bulge in my pocket. I hoped it was something useful, but when I unzipped my wetsuit, I found only my bilingual waterproof dictionary. Then, I reached towards my thigh for my knife, but it was gone as well. I felt naked without it. “Ok, Navy Seal, let’s see how good the survival training is in practice.” I often talk to myself when stressed.
One minute, the government had me exploring an old sunken ship for undetonated explosives. The next moment, a freak storm ripped me from the depths and spit me up on the shore of this seemingly uninhabited island. Inside my head I heard the Navy speak survival list, “Check visual surroundings”. The sun beat down hard on me, but palm trees enticed me with their shade. My breath evened out and my heart slowed to a normal pace. Still prone on the sand, I examined the rest of my body, flexed my feet, and moved my wrists. Everything appeared to be in working order.
The ground moved a little, after being in the water so long, so I sat up slowly. I paused, breathed in and out, then decided removing my mask might help. I untangled my long hair from the straps of the mask, my one vanity. Out of habit, I attached my mask to my waist carabiner. I tried to get to my feet; being on solid ground felt odd. At my feet I noticed, a coconut, this was a good sign. Coconuts could nourish me. My mind continued down the survival list, and cataloged the natural resources, shade, shelter, nutrients. I needed a plan.
Finally, shuffling slowly, I reached the trees, and I then collapsed on the ground. Exhausted, thirsty, and hungry, I stared at the coconuts scattered around. How would I split one open without my knife? There were no rocks in sight, just shards of splintered coconuts. I needed to sharpen something to get to the milk and meat. If I could create a sharp point from the husks, this could help me open the coconuts and make fire, two integral pieces to my survival. I spent the rest of the afternoon honing two shards of shell to create my weapon of choice. I finally cracked one of the coconuts open. I lost much of the milk, but slurped up the remainder and, famished, bit into the meat. After some practice, I opened several other coconuts. Satiated, I fell into a fatigued sleep.
The early sun woke me with rays playing on my eye lids. I worked on the tough skins of the coconuts to make my morning meal. Think, damn it, do something so the search team can find you. The glass on the mask might refract light, but what to burn? If I collected old dried husks, I could build a bonfire. The smoke could be seen from a distance. I spent the day collecting shards and piling them on a high point of the shoreline. I still wasn’t sure where I was, but I knew my buddies wouldn’t stop looking for me. Next I worked on making fire. For a laugh, I used my dictionary. It defined fire, but not how to start one. My basic training was more useful. First, I worked with the glass on the mask leveraging the sunshine. As the sun went down, I twirled two shards to try to get a spark. My hands were raw, but I kept at it. Exhausted, without any success to show for my efforts, I fell asleep.
On day three, after eating, I focused on fire. It was close to dusk when I got a spark. The husks burned fast and lit the night sky. The larger the fire, the greater chance I had of being found. Tired from the effort of building and feeding the fire, I started to doze. Before I lost consciousness, something caught my attention. A mechanized sound, distant, but coming closer. I stood up and waved my arms, never thinking that they couldn’t see me. Hope filled my heart. Would they be able to see the fire? YES! A helicopter flew past, hovered over me, and then moved further down the beach to start its descent. I sank into a heap. My ordeal was over.