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Trifecta Lane

I wrote this short story a while ago, inspired by the recent trend of eco-friendly burials. Enjoy! ~Kris Faryn

 

The dead chatter in the branches. Their blood runs through the veins of every leaf. Their bones feed the souls of the trees.

Don’t ever go into the forest.

 

“Grams, you can’t. It’s not…” I look out the hospice window and search for the right word. “Natural.” Outside, trees whisper in the slight breeze, leaves rustling against each other like old, dry skin.

Grams raises one tattooed brow at me and recrosses her legs under her tie-dyed skirt. The bangles on her arms jingle in defiance. Cheeriness vs illness. Life vs death.

“I’ve got one month and I’ll not spend it fighting.” She crosses her paper-thin arms. Stubborn to her end. “Besides, I want to be buried next to your Grandpa.”

“This isn’t being buried. It’s being planted!”

“Allie, I’ll not tell you again. Don’t defy me, child.”

I pick up the brochure she’s thrown at me. The front picture has a giant seed pod with a tree growing on top. The caption “Help the planet and live on through the life of a tree” is typed underneath. On the inside of the brochure, images show how the deceased is folded into a fetal position and stuffed inside a biodegradable shell. From which a tree feeds and feeds and feeds. I toss it back onto the generic nightstand next to the hospice bed.

“But Grams…”

She holds up a shaky finger. Thins her lips. If she were stronger, and if I were nine instead of thirty-five, I’d be sent to a time out.

“We just got each other back. Please. Don’t fight with me.”

The guilt of my past bombards me. The powers-that-be had finally let me out of witness protection. Grams had been the one person they’d warned me not to contact, and the only one I could.

I look down at my own set of crossed arms. Despite years of doing everything I could to not be like Grams, I’d turned out just like her. I even married my own bad-boy-turned-convicted-felon.

Grams coughs, a never-ending trainwreck of spasms that shudders her entire body like it’s falling off her life’s tracks. I jump up from the chair, wrap an arm around her shoulders, and help her sit up. The hospice-provided pillows slump behind her back. I rest my forehead against her shoulder.

One month. I just got her back. Only one month left with the only person in the world who cares, or even knows, I’m alive.

And she’s almost dead.

***

The doctor lied. Grams didn’t have a month left. She had a week. I thought I’d have a month to come to terms with losing her, but nope.

If I’d had a year, I don’t think it would have made losing her any easier.

“I’m sorry, what?” I tune back into the funeral director’s words. Flowers surround the funeral home and overpower the air with rose and lily.

“Your grandmother has chosen to be a part of the prison system’s replanting project. As a spouse of a deceased convict interred into this program, she elected to be buried next to your grandfather.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“There’s a problem.”

Awesome. Just what I need while dealing with Grams’s death and executing her will. A will I strongly disagree with. Problems.

I take a deep breath, one that threatens to poke through my numbed emotions. “And that is?”

“The prison’s records are a little…disorganized. This is a relatively new program and kinks are still being worked out.”

“Meaning…”

“We don’t know where your grandfather was buried.”

My heart folds in two. Relief at not having to see my Grandpa’s burial place scuffles with panic at not being able to fulfill Grams’s one request. Grief throws a knife in the middle of the fight.

“But we can guess.” The funeral director concludes. He seems like a nice man. Probably goes home to his wife and two children. Tells them stories about his day. Drinks light beer.

I hate him.

“You want to guess? Bury my grandmother next to some random convict? A murderer or a rapist or a child abductor?”

The director peers over the top of his smudged glasses. “Remind me what your grandfather did?”

I shoot him a Smith & Wesson 9MM glare.

“Death row inmates were buried according to date and crime. It’ll help us better identify his location.”

I swallow back the bite of shame, seasoned with a few pinches of guilt, and answer. “Boss of the Chicago Outfit.”

Mr. Funeral Director develops a tick beneath his right eye. “Ah. He’ll be on row nine then. Trifecta Lane. ” He turns a map depicting a large square with rows of straight circles. “Either this tree, or this one.” He taps two circles with his pen.

“What’s Trifecta Lane?”

“Death row inmates convicted of three or more felonies.” I hear the hesitation in his tone, though his words don’t falter.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my family legacy.

***

I drive down a country road to a fenced off field. Dirt kicks up around my car and poofs behind my tires. I turn off the road at a painted sign that reads Renewal Fields. In other words, the state’s federally sanctioned experiment on executed inmates. Turning their bodies into a forest. Very eco-friendly.

But something about it gives me the creeps.

Another five minutes passes full of nothing but empty fields. Am I in the wrong place? There can’t be too many cemeteries of trees, right? I pull over to the side of the plowed road. Dust catches up with my car and settles around the windows, leaving a film of red powder. I turn on my wipers and clear the windshield, and…there, yes. On the horizon. A group of buildings.

I pull back on the road. As I get closer, the empty fields turn into planted rows of saplings. The tallest are six feet, slender and bowing under branches full of leaves. The smallest, capped by a protective dome and less than a foot tall. I park in front of the first building. Made of cut stone and marble, it looks every inch a mausoleum, but a gold plate on the outside claims it’s an office. Again, creepy.

My fingers reach for the handle and tremble against the silver-painted plastic. Am I ready to bury Grams? The last of my family?

No. No I am not.

I open my door anyway.

A breeze kicks up, blowing dandelion seeds around the air. My black dress pushes the back of my legs into a walking motion. That’s all the past few days have been. Motions. Not actual actions. Just mechanics of living.

She’s here, she’s here, she’s here.

A round of whispers ride on the breeze and a cold finger bumps along each ridge of my spine. I shoot my gaze around the area. The grounds are empty, save the circle of trees rustling in the wind, which dies down and sucks the whispers away.

My head has been stuffed full of death for a month and now I’m hearing things. Awesome.

I head into the small office. It’s a windowless block of a room, with one rose sitting in a clear vase on a marble-topped desk. I ding a shiny gold bell. The tinny cling echos against the close walls. If someone didn’t hurry, I’d catch claustrophobia.

“Hello? Anyone here?”

A low, grating sound like thick claws on a chalkboard shakes the water in the rose vase. My heart startles, stops, hesitates to beat. My breath fastens to the back of my throat.

The back wall of the office swings open. A woman the size of a raisin, and with more wrinkles, scurries out.

“You rang?” she says in a spot-on Lurch voice. Then she laughs so hard she slaps her own knee.

“Uh…” I shake my head, blink a few times. Nope, still a tiny, old, probably crazy, woman that just walked out of a wall. “I’m here to bury my grandmother?” My words tilted into a question at the end.

“Ah, yes. The DeLuca planting – er – burial. Come, come with me, girl.” She snaps her fingers and turns on her garden boot. “I’m so sorry for your loss, by the way.” She tosses over her shoulder as if it’s a spilled grain of salt.

“Sure you are,” I mutter and follow the raisin through the back wall and into a sunlit glass room. The room is full of tiny trees in big pots, fertilizer, garden spades, and potting shelves. Orchids line the walls. Ferns create a walkway.

“S’cuse the mess. We’re still getting everything ready for visitors. You know, you’re the first.”

“Visitor?”

“Yup. No one ever seems to make it to these burials. Can’t quite figure it out.”

“Maybe because they’re all convicted criminals?” I suggested.

“Nah. That ain’t it.”

“Maybe because this is all a little weird?” I gesture at our surroundings.

The raisin spins on her heels and sticks a finger with dirt-lined cuticles in my face. “Now you tell me what, what is weird,” here she shakes her hands around in the air, “about Mother Nature taking back what’s hers?” Her hands plant themselves on her hips and she waits for my answer.

“It’s just…different.”

“And when did we define different as bad?” She spins back around and walks quickly through the greenhouse, talking with her hands and her hips. “All the greatest inventors were…” she glares at me over her shoulder. “Different.”

“I’m sorry. Did you invent this process?”

“Hell, no. I’m just the gardener. Come on. Better find Mrs. Deluca ‘fore she starts composting.”

I follow Raisin into another greenhouse. This one is even less ready for visitors. The bottom half of each wall is made of corrugated plastic and lined with steel shelving units. Something sweet permeates the rich loam and fertilizer riding on the air. Not a good sweet, but a dead-squirrel-in-the-wall sweet.

“This ain’t supposed to be a part of the tour, but since it’s just you and me, eh. Rules, schmules.” She shrugs and offers me a girlfriend grin. And then she points to a corner of the greenhouse.

In the corner, blending in with the corrugated plastic and mounds of dirt, sits a six-foot-tall egg. Light brown shell. Shadow of a crumpled human inside.

“Is that…” I trail off as the bones in my knees disappear. I grip onto the nearest shelving unit to hold myself up.

Raisin gives me a double-take, seems to realize for the first time that this isn’t a tour of a museum, but a burial for my grandmother.

“Sorry, girl. Better with plants than people. Why don’t you wait outside?” She chins toward a door hidden at the back of the greenhouse. “I’ll be right out.”

I plow through the swinging door and into a row of saplings and rest my hands on my knees. Air plays hide and seek with my lungs. Grief penetrates the novacane I’ve injected into my emotions, twists my heart in opposite directions, and slices through my chest.

She’s here, she’s here, she’s here. The leaves rustle in the wind.

Why did Grams have to do this? Why couldn’t she be cremated or buried in a box or live? Why did she choose to die, rather than fight?

Why did she leave me alone?

A sharp prick stabs my toe through my shoe.

I jump into the arms of a tree and catch a glimpse of a sharp stick slithering back into the ground.

That can’t be right. Sticks don’t slither.

I shake my head and head back to the greenhouse. The door swings open and Grams in her seed pod is wheeled out by Raisin.

“C’mon then. Minister’s here. You ready to say goodbye?” She pats Grams and I’m not sure if she’s talking to me, or Grams.

I follow any way.

We walk along the edge of the field, toward the back where the first planted trees stand tall. Grandpa is under one of them. Feeding one of them.

Because of me.

I wait for the dart of pain, but this time, I can’t feel.

Raisin wheels Grams into a line of trees. A man in black with a white collar waits a few feet in. Behind him, a giant hole is carved into the earth.

There is no one else.

This is not a funeral people attend. This is not a life people celebrate. It’s an inevitability. A lonely inevitability.

The leaves brush against each other, louder than before, wind picking up and playing a symphony of she’s here all around us. The minister does what he’s paid to do, leads me in cupping a handful of dirt on top of Grams’s seed, gives me his blessing, and leaves.

Raisin pushes a button on the wagon holding Grams and the seed moves forward over the hole and is gently lowered into the earth. The dirt the minister and I so carefully poured over her shell shakes loose, falls to the ground. A smudge of dirt the color of ashes marks our goodbye.

I wait until Raisin pulls the wagon away from Grams’s new resting place. I wait until dirt is poured on top of Grams and she disappears under a cascade of rich earth. I wait until the hole is filled and Raisin leaves and the whispers on the wind die.

I wait until I find the courage to leave and face what’s left of my life.

If I could, I’d wait until the hole Grams has left in my heart is filled with something as rich and dark and all-consuming as the earth she now rests in. But some holes are meant to stay holes.

***

Twenty Years Later

When you get the call that someone you once loved has died, it’s amazing how mundane tasks become the entire world. When the prison calls about Nate, I’m drying a coffee mug. A freebie from some place or other, but it becomes imperative that every drop of water is soaked up by the towel and the cheap porcelain is buffed to a shine.

Two days later, I pull into Renewal Fields. The painted sign has been replaced by a brick marquis with gold lettering. The R in Renewal hangs upside down, held on by one nail. The empty field has turned into an overgrown forest. Only the tops of the trees give any nod to their once orderly rows.

I drive down the entrance road, now gravel and tree-lined. The program had been discontinued years ago due to a change in administration. Not sure why or how Nate chose to be planted rather than buried. Not sure why he requested me, his ex-wife and reason he was in jail to begin with, to be at his funeral. But the woman on the other end of the line had said, repeatedly, that he would be buried at Renewal Fields and it was his last wish that I attend.

The trees grow thicker and taller the closer I get to the office. The once white stone and marble building is covered in vines.

“Hello?” I call out, no wish to go into that office. But there’s no answer. The trees scrape against each other. I shoulder my purse, shut the car door, and walk inside. The office door resists my tug, but finally releases. Whatever company manages this place needs to be fired. Everything is in disrepair.

Inside, not much has changed. The bell, a little worse for the wear, still shares the marble desk with a rose.

My gaze travels back to the rose. The rose has grown roots.

I look closer.

No vase. Must be a statue. The rose statue’s roots grow along the marble top and fall to the ground.

Not a choice I’d make for my home, but this is a funeral home.

“Hello?” I ding the bell. No answer. The hidden door in the back wall stands ajar, so I push it open and walk through.

“Anyone here?” I feel the emptiness of the place. There aren’t even shadows to keep me company.

“You made it.” A gnarled voice jumps out of nowhere.

I spin around. Raisin sits in the corner.

“I did. Ex-husband this time.”

“Good ol’ Nate. Always was a carogna.”

Last time I was here, Raisin didn’t speak Italian. Raisin didn’t know Nate. Raisin certainly didn’t know Nate was an asshole. The only person who had ever called him one in Italian was dead.

“Excuse me?” The sharp ends of my ribs stab into my stomach. Another thought hits the back of my neck and shoots razor-edged chills down my spine.

Raisin should be dead. She had to be over 100 by now.

“It’s good to see you, mia bambola.

No. No, no, no.

I back away. I hadn’t heard that endearment since I gave testimony against Grandpa thirty years ago. Betrayed him, my family. Sent my own husband to jail along with him. Had to live years in witness protection.

Raisin gets to her feet, but it’s more like she is pushed up from behind. Her legs go straight and then, she’s standing. How do you stand without bending your legs?

She jerks toward me, her feet drag along the floor with each step. Her head lolls around on her neck.

Ferns brush the back of my legs, and I catch myself just before I fall backwards. Raisin takes another step towards me and raises her head.

Her eyes are gone. Replaced by two twigs that hug her upper eyelids. She opens her mouth, and inside, a web of small, budding branches replace her teeth. Tree roots have embedded into her legs and make her twitch. Make her move.

“Took me some time, but I figured out a way to see you again.” Her mouth moves in time with the words, but it’s not her.

It’s Johnny DeLuca. Chicago’s most notorious mafia boss in history.

Grandpa.

A throat-ripping scream shreds my vocals and propels my feet. I run. The glass above my head darkens. Cracks. I look up.

Thick vines race overhead, track my every movement. The greenhouse plunges into twilight. I fumble for the door leading to the next greenhouse, push against the vines covering it. Tiny pricks of pain lace the inside of my arm. One, last, push. I break through. Slam the door shut behind me.

My arm is covered in a hundred miniscule droplets of blood as if I’ve been poked with a hundred needles. I shake it off. My heart drums against my throat. The vines above have disappeared. Did I lose them?

Or did they let me go?

I tiptoe to the end of the greenhouse. My internal alarms switch to silent mode. Flashing lights, no ear-breaking screeching. The door pops open in a cloud of dust, breaking through years of disuse. No vines in sight. No tree roots.

Let her go, let her go, let her go. The trees whisper. All those years ago, it hadn’t been the breeze, but the whispers of the dead.

I don’t hesitate. I run for my car. Each step pounded into the dirt is a risk. Just like twenty years ago, those tree roots could stab out of the earth.

The car handle is in my hand when the dirt around the office cracks. The marble and stone walls shift. The building caves in. I slam myself into the car, lock the door, shove the key in the ignition.

A tree root as big as the greenhouse shoots into the sky, Raisin speared on one end. She crumples in from the middle, and is sucked inside out. Bits of bloody flesh hit my windshield like hail.

I reverse out of the parking lot, throw the car into drive. The road is a five minute drive at normal speeds. I could make it in a minute. How far did his roots reach? How far?

The pedal touches the floorboard under my foot. I can see the county road. I can see the entrance sign. I can see…

The world turns upside down and I fly. My bones shake and something important rattles loose when the roof of my car plows into the dirt. Roots beat at the windshield, sneak in through the air vents and I am trapped. Upside down, held prisoner by my seatbelt.

I fumble for the release and punch it in. My head bangs against the roof of the car.  Blood leaks from my arm, from my head and distracts the roots for a precious second. I push my way out of the door and run.

One foot makes it past the fence’s boundaries.

The other is speared in a fiery attack of pain. Grandpa’s voice and a thousand others fill my head at once.

“I, too, once thought I was almost free. When mia bambola took the stand, I thought, I am saved.”

The root is needle-like and pushes through my heel, into my leg bone. Adrenaline ices the pain.

“But you betrayed me.” The root wrenches and thrusts deeper. “You betrayed Nate.” It splits my foot open and a distant part of me screams, screams, screams.

“You deprived my wife of a husband.”

Is Grams in here, too? Do I have a savior in her? No, no. Grandpa holds power over the rest of the trees and the souls trapped in them. They are one mind. His mind.

I’m going to die.

The root squirms in my thigh, drinks my life out of me. Feeds the trees. Trees brought up on human flesh and bone and innards. They crave more. They’ll feed on whoever enters this forest. Grandpa, just like in life, is a cancer in death. Unstoppable, untreatable.

Inescapable.

I reach for my purse wrapped across my body and dig out a pen. I stretch as far as I can, and am able to just reach the white fence post. Maybe no one will read this. Maybe the forest will spread, destroying cities as it multiplies. But maybe someone will read, and be saved.

The pen digs into the wood.

The dead chatter in the branches. Their blood runs through the veins of every leaf. Their bones feed the souls of the trees.

Don’t go into the forest.

 

Resolution

The coffee shop buzzes around me and my best friend, Kris. The regulars are oblivious to the fact that my best friend may have gone loony. I stare into the clear jar she’s placed on the table, full of tiny paper slips. Pink and orange and blue folded paper fill the jar like tiny fortune cookies, supposedly written with the memories of the past year.

“Seriously, Kris. What on earth…?”

Kris, blonde and typically put together, shakes her frizzy curls and runs her wrinkled silk scarf through her fingers once again. “I don’t know. Beth, this is the weirdest thing. I spent all year writing everything that happened on the pieces of paper. Saw it on Pinterest. I put them in the jar and started taking them out this morning, New Year’s morning, and it’s like they never happened.”

“I don’t understand.”

Kris sucks in air and presses her lips together. She takes a moment, bites her lip like she does when she’s picking which guy to hit on at the bar, and lets her breath go.

“Okay. Open the jar.” She pushes the mason jar toward me with one press-on nail, as if she’s afraid to make skin-to-glass contact.

I wrap my hand around the pink gingham covered lid and twist. The lid resists, then pops and releases its stronghold on the jar. Scents wash over me and for a millisecond, I relive some of the past year. The day Kris and I went ring browsing, just in case Tag popped the big Q to me on Valentine’s. Drinks with Kris the night after Tag dumped me and jumped up and down on my heart, making sure to burst every single artery. Kris bringing me flowers and pouring the vase full of water on my head when I refused to get up and shower.

A year of memories of my best friend saving my life.

I lick the sudden nervous-sour taste off my lips. What if she isn’t making this up? What if taking out these slips really does make it as if the memory never happened? What if this jar can erase the past?

“Pick one. Just one Beth, okay. And try to make it a small one. Or a really bad one.” Kris wraps her hands around her teacup and holds so tight her rings scrape against the porcelain.

I reach in and pull out a small blue slip.

Kris shoves her hands under her legs and rocks back and forth.

“Do it.” She says and closes her eyes.

I open the slip.

March 27th, 2013; Dad died today. I’m going to miss him, but I’m so glad he’s not suffering anymore. What does a little girl do without her daddy?

I remember that day. Kris had called me crying and then…

My mind goes blank. I try and reach for the memory I know I was just having, but…

Nothing.

I read the slip again.

Kris’s dad died?

The loud murmurs of the coffee house fade away until all I can hear is Kris’s staggered breathing, all I can see is her too still posture, all I can know is this-is-impossible.

“Kris, March 27th. Do you remember what happened?”

“Nu-uh. Why? Is it bad? What happened?” She grips the edge of the table, her hot-rod red nails strain against the fake wood.

My heart lodges behind my knees and a giant fist punches the inside of my throat. “Your dad died.” My voice scrapes out as a whisper.

“Dad…no, he’s still in the hosp–” her words fall into oblivion and I can see her searching for the truth, but, just like my own memory, it’s gone. Truth has disappeared, taking our memories hostage.

I slide the blue slip across the table to her, so she can see, in her own handwriting, her father’s death.

“Oh my God.” Kris hovers her fingers above the slip, not touching, as if touching would somehow make it more real than it already is.

“Maybe we can put it back in the jar, and you’ll remember again.”

She shakes her head. “I’ve already tried that. I-I’ve gotta call Mom. Maybe she remembers.”

But she wouldn’t. From what I’d seen, that jar made everyone forget. The past ceases to exist.

*****
I sit the jar on my kitchen table, after Kris insisted I take it home with me. The jar scared her. And since she was the more accident-prone of the two of us, she thought it’d be safer with me. On the top shelf of my closet. In a box. With a lock.

But here it sits. On my kitchen table.

I fold my arms on the table, rest my cheek on my hands, and look through the glass. Between the gaps in the papers, I can just make out a picture on the other side of the room. The one of me and Tag at Disneyworld. He had put a princess hat on my head and told me he’d make me his queen.

That was before he found some other princess to screw.

I get up, yank a glass out of the cabinet, and fill it with grape juice colored wine. So what if it’s ten in the morning. If it looks like grape juice, then I say it’s grape juice.

The wine hits the back of my throat with a slight burn. It’s about a week old and a little rancid, but who cares. It’s New Year’s Day and I’m alone, ringless, and manless. I down the full glass like a double shot.

“Round two, anyone?” I eye the two stuffed animals Tag won for me at last year’s carnival. “Just me then? Party poopers.” I fill the glass again and plop onto the couch next to Bonnie and Clyde, also known as Party Poopers One and Two.

I grab Bonnie by her hot pink tail and hug her bear body to mine. My apartment is filled with memories of Tag.

“Tagged by Tag,” I giggle and hiccup. Wine must get stronger with age.

I eye the jar. I knew, the minute I took the jar from Kris, that I would do this. Erase Tag, erase this past year, erase the good and the bad. Because if there was no good with Tag, then the bad wasn’t bad. And if even the bad was gone, then maybe, I could start over.

For the past year, I’d been stuck in an endless loop of having my heart broken every morning I woke up without Tag by my side. Every night I tried to avoid going to sleep, because I knew I’d only wake up having to remember he was gone.

I should be glad and I should be ready to move on. But when you give your heart so completely to someone else, sometimes, you never get it back.

This was the only way.

The only way to save my life. To get a life.

I take another drink, grab my notebook, and write.

April 12; Meeting Tag at the bar.
June 16; Tag said he loved me.
September 21; Tag moved in.
December 25; Christmas at Disneyworld with Tag.
February 14; Tag dumps me; admits he’s found someone else.
February 20; Found Tag banging my boss in her office.
February 21; Quit my job because of Tag.
January 1; Every memory associated with Tag. I want, I need him, to be erased.

I get tired of writing it all down. The last one should take care of the rest.

I tear each memory into a little strip. Eight memories written on white lined paper, folded into less than a handful of slips. Eight memories that had taken the power to control my own heart.

Eight memories I could erase and get my life back.

I stuff them in the jar and screw the lid on tight. Refill my glass. Watch a movie to give the jar some time to work its magic, or whatever. Watch another movie to procrastinate. Start in on a new bottle of wine.

Three p.m.

Time to take control of my life.

*****
Four p.m. My apartment seems strangely empty. Photos of my trip to Disneyworld last year, stuffed animals I won at the carnival, everything seems in place. But something is missing.

I look down at the table. Seven blank strips of paper are unfolded on the table.

One strip of paper has something written on it.

Every memory associated with_____. I want, I need him, to be erased.

I picked up the phone and call Kris.

“Hey, it’s me. If I were to erase a guy from my memory, who would it be?”

“Beth, you didn’t.”

“Apparently I did.” The room started to waver. “And apparently I’ve had too much to drink.”

“It’s not even five yet.”

“Yup.” I hiccup.

“I’ll be there in twenty.”

Fifteen minutes later, Kris unlocks my front door and walks in, not even bothering to knock. I’m laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling, and tossing a hot pink bear into the air with my feet.

“You stupid idiot. Why would you do this?”

“I guess I thought it was a good idea at the time.”

She walks over to the table and picks up the slips of paper. “Even his name is erased from the slips. So we don’t know who he is, what he looks like, nothing.”

“Yup,” I laugh. “I think it’s a good thing, though. I haven’t felt this happy in forever. We’re going out tonight. And I’m wearing that red leather skirt you bought me last year.”

“Why would I buy you a red leather skirt?”

“Who cares?” I jump up from the couch and twirl into the bedroom. “Where’d you get that jar, anyway?”

“Back of some antique shop. I think I should’ve left it there. Damn Pinterest.”

*****
“Beth! Kris! My little chicas!” Sam, the bartender older than the ancient margarita machine, clears a space for us at the bar. “Haven’t seen my two favorite senoritas in too long. Where have you been?”

“We’ve been cheating on you, Sam. Going to the Corner Bar for the past few months.” Kris wiggles her hips onto the barstool.

He grabs his chest. “No, mi amor!”

“Don’t worry. We’ll never leave you again.” I speak up and scoot onto the empty seat next to Kris. My leather skirt rides up my legs and earns a few glances from the group of guys playing pool.

I turn away. Tonight’s girl’s night. But tomorrow’s a new day.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

A warm male voice tickles my cheek. I turn and fall into a pair of hazel eyes.

“Hmmm…” I pull away and take a good look at him. Tall, goes to the gym, but doesn’t live there, can put an outfit together but nothing too metro. Cute. Not bad at all. “I’m not sure yet.”

He smiles and my heart does a quick two-step. “What’s your name?”

“Beth. Yours?”

“Tag.”

“Strange name. I’ve got a bad feeling about you, Tag.” I say, and strangely enough, I kind of do.

“Funny. I feel if you don’t let me buy you this drink, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”

“Well, since you put it that way. Sam, this gentleman will be buying my drinks this evening.”

“Whatever you say, chica.”

Sam slides our drinks across the counter.

Kris raises her glass. “A toast. To a Happy New Year, and new beginnings.”

“And may the past be a memory, best forgotten,” I add.

Clink.

Mythological Creatures – Banshees

banshee_window

(originally posted on Readerlicious)

I overheard one of my coworkers talking about a banshee to our boss. Why? I have no idea. I work in an oil and gas company. We don’t typically have need to discuss banshees at work.

Not only did he talk about a banshee, he also compared himself to a banshee and explained that a banshee is like a ghost.

Umm. No.

First mistake he made: a banshee is a woman. My co-worker, not so much. Missing some key parts of the banshee anatomy.

Second, a banshee is not a ghost. They are singers of death. Women who sing to warn of the approach of death. Women who appear in multitudes when someone holy dies. Women who sing and scream when a place is full of sorrow and of pain.

In Irish legends, banshees are not spirits in the ghost sense.The word banshee comes from the Irish bean si, woman of the sidhe, or woman of the fairy mounds. These singers of death can be spirits of nature, deities, or fairy woman. They can appear as a young maiden, a well-off middle-aged woman, or an elderly woman. 

There is also another form of a banshee. A bean sidhe, or washing woman, who washes the bloodstains of the dead out of their clothes. Creepy. And again, very not similar to my male, stereotypical businessman co-worker.

Banshees are typically seen brushing their long, fair hair with a silver comb. This silver comb, if picked up, can either spirit you away or it could just be a gift from a loved one. My advice: don’t pick up the comb. Though, this may be the one similarity between banshees and my co-worker. 

They both love their hair.

Siren Mythology – A Crabby Date

Melpomene, Muse of Singing, walked through the marble halls of her home set into the side of Mount Helicon. Walked past her favorite childhood hiding spot. The one none of her other eight Muse sisters had ever discovered. On the inner side of every hall, every room, the wall was carved rock. And full of little crevices, some just big enough to hide a little girl who didn’t want to be found.

If only she could fit in one now, she’d crawl in and not come out until Dad, Zeus to everyone else, acquired a taste for crab legs. Then she wouldn’t have to go on this date with a half-crab sea god.

Mel reached the entrance to her home and wrapped her hands around the huge handles of the granite doors.

A child’s giggle whispered down the hall. Mel turned around, one hand on the handle. The other, stretched toward the ghost of a little blonde girl, hair in braids. The little girl, oblivious to what her future held, climbed into a hidden crevice in the mountain wall and softly sang.

Mel’s heart rattled with each breath, as if her heart was made of glass and could shatter at any second. She closed her eyes and opened the doors.

***

The moon’s white light guided her past tumbled rocks and thorny brush, guided her to the ocean’s edge where she climbed on top of a boulder to wait.

“Strike one for being late, Phorcys.”

The ocean shimmered and a silver path, solid enough to walk on, appeared on the surface. Mel slid off the rock, a small song of wonder escaped her lips.

She stepped onto the path, which seemed to be made of nothing more than moonlight and salt. It flexed under her feet, letting warm water swirl over her bare toes. Fragrant white petals bordered the edge of the road.

Mel couldn’t help but to take one step, another step, another. All thoughts of hiding, of escape, disappeared, replaced by the thrill of adventure. The thrill of being away from her sisters, her mother, responsibility.

She bent down, scooped some of the silvery water in her hands and threw the water in the air. A small bubble of laughter escaped her throat and Mel skipped across the ocean.

***

The moon-road ended on a small island, bordered by haphazard rocks and boulders, and crowned with slender trees. The same fragrant smell as the petals on the silver road floated off the island. The moon showed Mel a small beach cove, free of the impassable rocks.

At the edge of the surf sat a small table with a cushion for one. Reality tugged at her like the tide tugged at the sand, pulling bits and pieces down into the ocean’s dark depths. Mel looked around, searching for a shell, a claw, a monster. Searching for her date.

No one.

Someone had set up the table. But she couldn’t imagine Phorcys doing so.

“Well whoever it was, they better show up soon with the food before I hunt them down,” she muttered. Her stomach growled in agreement. Skipping across the ocean had worked up a feast worthy appetite.

Mel stepped onto the white sand and heard a melody.

“Hello?”

No answer.

“Is someone there? I-I can hear you.”

The melody quickened, almost like the music had laughed. At her.

No one laughed at the Muse of Singing. Mel filled the air with song, determined to show the invisible musician the real master of song.

But instead, the music changed, and swirled around her voice, her body. Harmonized her song perfectly, amplified her voice so that her song was better than it ever sounded before.

Mel let the last note ring out, smiled and curtsied.

“Thank you. May we do this again sometime?” The musician replied with a lilt of a note, a yes, and proceeded to play soft music to compliment the night.

Mel curled on the pillow to, once again, wait for Phorcys.

***

A new thread of music wove its way into the musician’s melody, alerting Mel to a new arrival on the island. Mel was beginning to believe there was no musician at all, but rather that the island itself was singing.

And if that were the case, Mel never wanted to leave.

She rearranged her dress, fingered the emerald around her neck, watched the ocean. A small patch of fog rose from the water and sailed toward her. It cascaded over the sand and trailed up the beach to where she sat. And then, the fog stopped. Hovered. As if it had a mind.

“Good evening Zeus’s daughter.” A deep voice rumbled from the moist air.

“Uhh…hello?” Mel mentally slapped herself for sounding like dimwitted nymph.

“I apologize for my appearance, but I’ve found this form has received a better audience than my true presence.” Mel heard the slight smile in the tone, the not-so-slight wound in the words.

“Phorcys?”

“Yes, Muse of Singing. It is truly an honor to spend the evening with you.”

“Please, call me Melpomene. Um. Mel. Everyone calls me Mel.”

The fog shifted slightly, edged a little closer. “Mel.” Phorcys said as if he were running her name over his tongue. “It is very nice to meet you, Mel.”

Mel bowed her head. “Thank you for the road here. I’ve…I never knew something so incredible could exist.”

“Nor did I.” The fog settled on the other side of the table and pulsated with Phorcys’s words and Mel did her best to hide the virginal blush in her cheeks.

“Do you always create a road for, um, your guests?”

Again, the smile. “No, my dear. Only you.”

Mel’s mouth dried and she took a sip of the wine that had appeared on the table. “Why?” she asked before she could shove her bare foot in her mouth. Her mother had always gotten onto her for not catching her thoughts before they left her lips.

Phorcys laughed. At her. But his laugh didn’t make her mad. It was gentle, different, totally unexpected. He was unexpected. “Because, my dear, it is you. It has always been you for me, but I wasn’t worthy to meet you until now. Even now, I hesitate. You are the epitome of beauty and grace. And I am nothing but a deformed god, banished to the depths of the ocean.”

Mel’s heart broke at his words. His tone was tender, not bitter as his words might have conveyed, but accepting of his fate. Humble. And it burned through every defense, every judgment, every drawn bridge she had built against him.

Mel stood, walked around the table, and entered Phorcys’s fog.

Greek Mythology – Siren Family Tree

I’m unraveling the Siren knot today at www.readerlicious.com. Check out some cool pictures of Sirens and Mermaids, and a Siren Family Tree to guide you through the tangle of Greek Mythology!

Readerlicious.com is a site made by writers who love readers. Find your reading niche in our short stories, articles, and guest author interviews! The official launch won’t be until August, but we will run a contest for our early-to-the-scene readers at the end of June! Stay tuned!

Siren Mythology – The Beginning Muse

“C’mon Mel, he’s not that bad looking.”

Melpomene, the Muse of Singing, looked around the circle of her eight Muse sisters, all nodding their heads in agreement with the delusional one.

“You have got to be kidding. Have you been hanging out with Ate again?”

Erato shuddered at the reminder. Ate, goddess of delusions, once caused her to believe she was a nine year old human boy for a week. The only thing nine year old boys loved was to destroy. Not something that enticed the Muse of sappy love poetry.

“No. I have not.” Erato shifted in her seat and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Phorcys is powerful. You should be honored that he even wants to meet you.”

Melpomene let out the hot breath she’d been holding. “Should? You think I should be honored to meet a crusty old sea-god who is one half man and the other half crab?” A song that was part-grovel, part-scream threatened to escape her throat.

Mel chewed the side of her cheek, keeping the song in control, and glared at her sisters, each one pushier than the last. She gripped the arms of her chair and looked at her lap, wishing she had her own Muse of Schemes-to-Get-Out-of-Bad-Blind-Dates. Or better yet, if she were that Muse.

She raised her eyes just high enough to look at her sisters, each one a monolith stone, weighing her, shackling her to her chair, to her responsibilities, to her life.

***

Mel allowed her mother to select her dress, her jewels, and her hairstyle. She’d learned early on that you do not, repeat, Do Not, argue with a Titan goddess, especially not the Titan goddess of memory.

She pulled the green dress over her blonde curls, let the silky fabric fall so it accented her curves. The nymphs fell to her hair, their long nails scratching and pulling and tweaking each strand until it was in the ordained place.

Erato glided behind her, holding an emerald necklace enchanted to captivate the sea-god. The sea-god who was old before Melpomene sprang from her mother’s womb. The sea-god who had claws for hands and crab legs for feet.

The sea-god she had a date with as soon as the white moon rose above the ocean’s surface.

Melpomene bowed her head, allowed Erato to slip the necklace onto her neck, and arrange it so the emerald would gather the moonlight.

Mel’s mother, Mnemosyne, dipped her crystal scepter in the pool of water blessed by the starlight of Delphinus, trickled the water over her shoulders, and turned her to face the ocean.

***

Melpomene leaned against her balcony, set into the side of Mount Helicon, and watched the tip of the moon crest the ocean’s surface far below. From here, the ocean looked calm, a mirror to reflect the night sky. The water shivered against the moon and a silver-white path appeared on the ocean’s surface.

She raised her arms towards the moon and sang, begging him to slow his ascent in the night sky. The moon turned a deaf ear to her, its white light, once so peaceful, now stung her skin with betrayal. He rose, his white crescent a blemish in the darkness.

Melpomene swallowed a deep breath and tried to ignore the sickly-sweet scent of disaster souring the air.

It was time.

Unraveling the knot

Greek mythology is a complex world with a ton of threads and strings and ties and well, you get the picture.

I’m grabbing hold of the Siren thread and following it back through time. And there are just way too many cool stories not to share with you.

So over the next few months, I’ll be telling the untold stories of Greek mythology. Following the threads of those obscure characters that eventually lead to the Sirens. Showing you their world in tiny snippets of micro-fiction.

If you want the facts, I’ll be sharing those on another site, a site made by writers who love readers. Writers who want to share stories and tidbits and connect with readers where readers want to be connected.

I’d love to connect with you there, too. 🙂 Stay posted for more info!

 

A Siren’s Voice

Sirens. Seductresses. Mermaids. Monsters.

All derived from just a few lines in Greek literature. And those few lines have influenced cultures around the world for centuries.

But a few misconceptions have come as a result. One of the biggies is that a Siren is the same thing as a mermaid.

Sirens

Are

Not

Mermaids.

In fact, they’re a little scary looking. And I’m not a guy, but I don’t think I’d ever be seduced by their physical qualities.

Don’t believe me?

Maybe this little image will help.

Greek Siren

I know I know. You think she’s hot. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

So why is seduction so closely tied to a Siren?

Well, their voices did enchant. You could not hear their voice and resist their call. Now, most of Greek mythology is centered around a Hero’s Journey… not a Heroine’s Journey. So we don’t know for sure what effect a Siren would have on a female. But men were goners.

I’ve always been fascinated by Sirens and the effect they’ve had on today’s culture. You see evidence of them everywhere. Artists have been drawing them for years. Well, not true half-bird, half-women Sirens, but regardless, they are a mainstay.

Sirens weren’t always monsters. They actually were beautiful women, daughters of the muses and the sea-god Phorcys (a lot of debate on their actual parentage), and handmaidens of Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter.

When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades to be Queen of the Underworld, Demeter cursed the Sirens, giving them wings to fly over the earth in search of her daughter.

Korrina, in Book One of The Siren’s Call: Nocturne, was forced to watch one of the Sirens become the monster pictured above.

My brain took a high-altitude skydive without a parachute and splattered on the ground. I knew I was screaming, but I couldn’t hear myself.

The two had become one. One monstrous being. Bird from the neck down with a woman’s head attached to its neck. Like a sick design your own character game.

I think she describes it pretty well.

I want to leave you with one thought. Sirens have a bad rep. But, what if we got it wrong? What if they aren’t the bad guys at all?

 

Disclaimer: I do not have a doctorate in mythology. But I do love to research and read and obsess over my current series, The Siren’s Call. 

Excerpted from The Odyssey by Homer (c. 850 BC)

translated by Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

“I had hardly finished telling everything to the men before we reached the island of the two Sirens, for the wind had been very favourable. Then all of a sudden it fell dead calm; there was not a breath of wind nor a ripple upon the water, so the men furled the sails and stowed them; then taking to their oars they whitened the water with the foam they raised in rowing. Meanwhile I look a large wheel of wax and cut it up small with my sword. Then I kneaded the wax in my strong hands till it became soft, which it soon did between the kneading and the rays of the sun-god son of Hyperion. Then I stopped the ears of all my men, and they bound me hands and feet to the mast as I stood upright on the crosspiece; but they went on rowing themselves. When we had got within earshot of the land, and the ship was going at a good rate, the Sirens saw that we were getting in shore and began with their singing.

“‘Come here,’ they sang, ‘renowned Ulysses, honour to the Achaean name, and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song- and he who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the whole world.’

“They sang these words most musically, and as I longed to hear them further I made by frowning to my men that they should set me free; but they quickened their stroke, and Eurylochus and Perimedes bound me with still stronger bonds till we had got out of hearing of the Sirens’ voices. Then my men took the wax from their ears and unbound me.”