Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Comfort of Dragons

Farla guided Shyler’s magic in the glass dragon the pair were crafting and smiled at how enthusiastic her partner was about this project. This was the thirteenth dragon and Shyler’s joy over creating smaller replicas of herself had yet to dim. Starting their next project might well lead to a pouting dragon, but creating this mobile for Farla’s niece had been a lot of fun.

After waiting for the crystalline dragon to cool, Farla tucked it carefully into a padded bag with two others and left the studio with Shyler perched proudly on her shoulder. The pair received varying reactions on their journey. Those of the neighborhood who knew them offered waves and cheerful greetings, but strangers shied away. A few people even crossed the street. It was hard to be sure if they were prejudiced against Farla’s elven ears or Shyler’s red hue. Elves tend to be stronger with magic than human channelers, which makes some humans nervous, while red dragons have a completely unearned reputation for aggression. And, of course, there had been a rising sentiment against using magic at all lately.

People who knew Farla and Shyler recognized two of the most highly regarded artists in the nation and remembered how much of their income Farla spent on helping local families. The driver of the city bus the pair caught knew them well enough to shake his head at the couple who got up and moved to a further seat after she sat down near them. He made sure to use both her and Shyler’s names when wishing them well as they disembarked.

Upon reaching her sister’s house, Farla took a deep breath. Her sister was out of town, as was her husband and their six-year-old. The house was being watched by Farla’s brother-in-law’s sister. The sister, Elise, had soft grey eyes, warm brown hair, a gentle smile, a stately figure, and a deeply rooted sentiment against magic-channelers, all of which she’d inherited from her mother. Farla and Elise had known each other for close to a decade, and had a few interesting conversations early on. Then the conversations dried up, leaving only some glances that Farla struggled not to read much into from across rooms and dining tables. It had been two years since Elise did anything other than ignore Farla as much as possible.

When Elise opened the door, Farla expected her to stand aside without a word before going to read in the study as she had done every other time. She did not expect Elise to follow her into Katchya’s room and watch her bring out the final three dragon sculptures.

“These are the last ones?” Elise whispered, sounding scared. Her gaze was locked on the floor tiles beneath her feet.

“Yep.” Farla put extra pep into her voice, trying to pretend that she wasn’t unsettled by the change in routine. Shyler flew up to sit atop a bookshelf along with an assortment of plush animals but watched Elise with open distrust. “Once I attach them, I can hoist this baby up and it’ll be all ready to surprise the birthday girl when she gets home next week.”

Elise’s eyes moved to the ceiling, where the hook for the mobile was already installed. “I wonder how long it will take her to notice.”

The thought of their niece entering the room and going about her normal business before suddenly going, “When did that get there?” made Farla chuckle. “She’ll either see it immediately, or not until she gets into bed.”

“Agreed.” As though mentioning the bed had reminded Elise it existed, she sat down on it as she watched Farla deftly attach the new dragons. Each of the glass reptiles was a different color, which would work perfectly since Katchya’s room already looked like a rainbow had exploded across it. “Um…” Elise said after several minutes. “I don’t want to sound rude. But… Are they enchanted?”

Farla’s fingers paused and she looked up. Her eyes met Elise’s and she processed what she saw there. The other woman was openly concerned. It would have made some channelers angry, but Farla figured it was a mixture of possessing ignorance and honestly caring about a little girl they both adored. She could never be angry at someone wanting to protect her beloved niece. “I couldn’t love Katchya more if she were my own daughter. The only magic in these guys was from their formation and a mild spell to make it harder to shatter them.”

Elise’s lips pressed together for a moment before she nodded. Then she licked them as Farla tried to think about something other than Elise’s lips.

Farla went back to double-checking the attachments on the mobile, making extra certain that the metallic chains the dragons were to hang from were secure. Satisfied, she waved Shyler over. “Time to get this up!”

“Wait!” Elise sprang to her feet.

Shyler hissed at the sudden sound and flew to hide behind a curtain. Elise stared at the lump the dragon formed behind the curtain fabric as Farla waited for an explanation. Eventually, she gave up on that and said, a little testily, “I already told you I didn’t cast any big scary spells on it.”

“Oh.” Elise blinked a few times before meeting Farla’s gaze. Her eyes dipped as though she was cowed by what she saw. “That’s not what I meant. I meant to say, please hold on for a moment because I wanted to ask if you could add an extra enchantment.”

Her head tilted as Farla studied the other woman. “I thought you hated magic.”

“No… Not really.” A hint of tears clouded Elise’s eyes as she continued to study the floor. “That’s… I was raised that way. And my husband, he feels that way…” Her voice trembled as she spoke, but when she looked up her eyes were filled with anger. “But I’m sick of shutting up and ignoring my own opinions just because he ignores them. I’m leaving him. Or I want to. But when I told him that I wasn’t going to come back from this trip, he threatened Katchya.”

As Elise crumbled, collapsing onto the mattress and burying her face in her hands, Farla breathed in and tried to still a growing rage. The bed creaked as she sat and put a tentative arm around Elise. “Have you told Ethaniel?”

“Do you think I told Ethaniel?” Elise asked with a bitter laugh. “Is he on holiday with Katchya and Yvonne or in jail for murdering his brother-in-law?”

“Yeah, alright, I see your point.” Farla’s hand rubbed against Elise’s shoulder in a way she hoped was comforting as her anger turned to resolve and her thoughts shifted to planning. Shylar, reading the change in her partner’s emotions, emerged from the curtain at ground level and took a few hesitant steps towards the pair of elves. She stopped a ways shy of them and watched closely as she sent a sense of support to her partner. “I can enchant the mobile easily enough. But I think maybe you need something too. And we’ll need to put a charm on Katchya to protect her when she’s not in her room. Everyone already knows I made her the mobile, so we’ll need a piece of jewelry we can say is from you.”

Elise nodded. Her expression was numb and her voice toneless as she answered, “Of course. Just tell me what to buy.”

“I have some rainbow stone back at my place. It’s good for holding enchantments. Especially if you wrap it in gold. I have a little bit of that too. So we just need a chain.”


Farla’s chest felt tight as she gave Elise a squeeze and stood up. “You don’t have to stay for this part if you don’t want to.”

Elise looked up slowly. “I want to stay if that’s alright. I’m curious.”

Farla quirked her eyebrows. “So you really don’t think you’ll be damned by being around someone misusing God’s power?”

“No.” Elise shook her head and let out a soft sigh. “You couldn’t do evil if you tried, Farla. You’re the kindest, most godly person I know.”

Her lips parted as Farla replayed the words in her head. She had no idea how to respond to them.

“I’m sorry I let you think I hated you,” Elise went on. “I… I just couldn’t let Aris know I didn’t. If he had any idea how I actually feel about you… He wouldn’t handle it well.”

“How you actually feel?”

The softest of smiles graced Elise’s face. “Don’t get distracted. I’ll tell you all about it after we make sure the niblet’s safe.”

“Okay,” Farla all but squeaked. Could Elise be saying what Farla so desperately wanted her to be saying? No… Probably not. She probably just meant she wanted to be friends, right? Farla told herself not to let her hopes get too high and that now wasn’t the time for fantasies.

Early the next week, Katchya ran into her room and spotted the change right away. “Everybody!” she yelled. “There are dragons in my room!”

Laughing, the adults walked down the hall to admire the project. Her mom and dad looked up, making sounds of astonishment while her aunts smiled at each other.

Katchya put a hand on her hip. “Was this you, Aunt Farla?”

“Why would you think that?” Farla asked with a grin. On her shoulder, Shyler clicked merrily in the dragon equivalent of laughter.

“It was,” Katchya said to the others before running back to stand under the mobile. She lay on the floor so she could get a better view. “They’re so pretty.”

“So you like dragons?” Elise asked in a teasing voice. “I didn’t know that, Niblet.”

“Everyone knows that,” Katchya said.

“Okay, fine. I knew. That’s probably why I bought this.”

“Bought what?” Katchya bounced up again and looked eagerly at the package her other aunt held out to her. She grabbed the present and ripped the paper off it with excited efficiency. More gently, she took the lid from the box thus revealed. Her eyes went wide at the sight of a gold dragon clutching a rainbow-colored crystal to its chest. She squealed. “I love it!”

“Good,” said Elise. “I never want to see you without it.”

“You only see me on holidays,” Katchya said. “But I’ll wear it everyday.”

“Alright.” Elise smiled as Yvonne helped her daughter secure the clasp of the new necklace. “You’ll be seeing me more often than that from now on though.”

Ethaniel gave his sister a curious look. “She will?”

“Yeah.” Elise drew a deep breath. “I’m divorcing Astir.”

Everyone paused for a moment, then Yvonne blurted, “Thank God,” as Ethaniel said, “About time.”

“And…” Elise reached out for Farla’s hand. “And I’m moving in with Farla.”

There was another pause, during which Yvonne and Ethaniel shared a smile.

“Thank God,” said Ethaniel.

“About time,” Yvonne added.

“Awesome!” proclaimed Katchya. “This is the best birthday ever!”

Above image is by deviant art user Sandara. I urge you to check out her feed at https://www.deviantart.com/sandara and considering purchasing some of the works she has for sale. (A list which includes this imagine.)

It was offered as prompt on my Wording Wednesday Project

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Leaving the House During the End of the World As We Know It

The following isn't fiction. It's not even really narrative nonfiction. It's just a little essay about what I did last weekend and what I saw when I left my house during a pandemic. I'm writing it largely to get it out of my head, but feel free to read it anyway. :)

For background, I live in Western Washington State. You know, where the COVID-19 pandemic first set foot in the US. By Saturday morning our social gathering buildings (restaurants, pubs, theaters, etc) had been closed for five days. It felt like longer. We were still being told we could go outside, though, so long as we did it without getting within six feet of people we don't live with. This was one of the first warm sunny days of the year, which would normally mean people were pushing towards outdoor activities, and with everything indoors cancelled, I knew that push was going to be strong. 

I left my house for the first time in weeks. (Months? Years? Or maybe only days. My perception of time flow was seriously off and had been since the COVID-19 virus made it my state.) The first time since before the social places closed, certainly. My companions both lived with me; it had been a while since I saw someone who didn't.

We got to the state highway that runs through our town at around nine in the morning. Traffic seemed normal. I was on my way to ski even thought the lifts weren't running, but what was everyone else doing? I had no idea.

We passed by a small stocked lake. Its parking lot was completely full and there were more boats on it than I'd ever witnesses before. I hoped everyone had kept their distance while waiting their turn for the single boat launch.

We made it to I-5. Traffic seemed a little light, but not alarmingly so. Until we got to Everett. Everett is normally where traffic starts to be headache inducing, but there were no more people there than there had been back before the interstate went from two lanes each way to four. In fact, it seemed like maybe there were fewer. Several cars passed us doing about 100mph like they thought traffic laws had been suspended, but we soon starting see speed patrols. The whole thing was rather surreal.

Driving along, you can clearly see several stores from the road. The sporting goods place was packed like it was Christmas. Home Depot looked pretty typical for mid-morning Saturday. And Walmart? I don't think I've ever seen a Walmart parking lot that empty, certainly not on a weekend. I wondered if this was a Washingtonians being all about outdoor activities thing or something happening nationally. I wondered how the people in the sporting goods store could possibly be keeping proper distance from one another.

The lack of traffic remained until I-90, where it went back to what I'd expect for the time of day on a Saturday. I assumed most of these people were going hiking and the overflowing parking lots I glimpsed from the interstate bore that up, as did the decrease in traffic by the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. I could only hope people were staying far enough apart near the trailheads.

At the Snoqualmie Ski Area, things were an odd level of active. There weren't nearly as many people as there would have been if the lifts were turning, but there were many more than tend to show up in the weeks after the lifts stop in a typical year. (The above photo is one I took before heading up the slope.) We certainly had no trouble staying far away from other groups while skiing.

I had expected to see many more people just playing in the snow than were actually there. I only saw a few families with sleds. Nearly everyone there was hiking or skinning up the slopes to ski or snowboard. This helped with the whole stay-far-from-each-other thing.

We drove by our land and observed that the parking lot at that ski base was much more full than the one at the base area we went to. Possibly because this is where the Nordic trails are, but also possibly because Hyak has some greens you can hike up and ski down blacks, so it's really the easiest area for touring or bootpacking. Again, people seemed to be getting out of their cars and spreading out, so it seemed that despite the number of cars around people were still doing a decent job of trying to prevent the spread of the virus.

Over the course of the day, I used three separate DOT bathrooms. Sitting in the car at the ones on I-5, we observed that most of the other people there looked old enough they might should be more worried about COVID-19 than they seemed to be. And they did not look like they were trying to do something outdoorsy. I don't know what they were doing. I stayed as far away from them as I could. At the stop on I-90, it seemed to be mostly other outdoorsy people, but I stayed away from them too, even when put in the odd position of having to wait for a sink even though there had been a ton of open stalls. I assume that, like me, other people are now spending much more time washing their hands than usual. I hadn't expected that to be one of the markers of the End of the World. No one ever washes their hands in zombie movies.

What I didn't all day see were airplanes. It was really weird. No planes, no chemtrails. The skies hadn't been so clear of traffic since September, 2001. I'm really not sure why. Maybe the recreational airports closed. Maybe very few people live with their usual copilots. I don't know.

We crossed a bridge on the way home. Typically, it has walkways on both sides of the vehicular traffic, but they've closed one of them for bridge maintenance. This meant that groups of people were shuffling by each other in a space that's maybe a meter wide. It's a long bridge, so there were each passing by several other groups doing this. I saw that and thought we needed to close the bridge to pedestrians ASAP. Because apparently people couldn't look at it and say, "Gee, maybe today isn't a good time to walk across this bridge." It's in the middle of nowhere, so it's not like they were actually traveling on foot; they were just being tourists.

When we got home, I learned that some of the larger and better known parks in the area had closed down their more popular access points because they were too crowded. I wasn't surprised.

That was three days ago. Since then my state governor has asked us to stay at home unless doing essential things. Exercise is considered essential, but I'm thinking I'm not going to be going skiing again for a while because even if I'm allowed to I can't really justify using the DOT restrooms. (And not using them isn't an option at the distance I currently live.) There are closer places to exercise. Granted, I'm allergic to what's outside my house right now, but c'est le pandemic, n'est ce pas?

Thanks for letting me process all that. I don't really have a decent diary at the moment. Next time I post it will be a story, with an actual plot and everything. Stay tuned!

(Above: My skis looking happy. )

Friday, March 6, 2020

Into the Misty Dark

Note: This piece originally appeared on my LiveJournal way back in 2010.

The chair rushed up behind us, faster by far than the ones on the lift we came off of. My son faltered, thrown off by the speed. The attendant pressed the stop button. The men behind us groaned.

We sat on the chair, which stayed put well past the point I was embarrassed and the kid was bored. Slowly, it started up again.

My son tapped his ski poles against his legs, nervous or impatient, I couldn't tell which.

We climbed through the loose fog we were already used to from the last run. Up over the race course the skiers behind us were anxious to get back to. Up past the top of the lift I would have rather taken had it been running that night. Up into thicker fog.

The fog kept getting more dense. I could see the chair in front of us, but not past it.

"This is taking forever," my son said.

"Lift rides always seem too long in the fog. It's the lack of visibility.” But inside I was thinking he was right, that we had been on the lift too long. And the lift was so much faster than I'd expected... What if it was the wrong one? What if I was confusing it with a lift at one of the other ski areas and I'd just put us on something going too far up the mountain, something leading to runs we couldn't handle?

“It's spooky.”

I smiled and tried not to look worried. “Yeah, it is.”

It was getting spookier too. The higher we went, the less well-lit everything was. I had no idea where we were going. The slope under us could be anywhere, all I could see of it was a tiny sliver. It was steep, too steep. But wide. Maybe. It was supposed to be. We should be able to cut across rather than go straight down, giving us a harder run than the one we were bored with while still being well in Eric's comfort zone. If this was the right slope.

“Are you sure we're on the right lift?” Eric asked.

“Yes,” I lied. Not well from the look he gave me.

“Mom, is this the wrong lift?”

“I'm not sure.” I put an arm around his shoulders and pointed at the ground. “But see the way the slope goes across? There's nothing between here and the last slope we were on, so we can cut back no problem.”


The fog grew heavier. I could barely make out the chair in front of me. Then we sailed past the last light. I touched my jacket, feeling the bump from the headlamp I'd taken from the car just in case. Still there. Good.

Finally, the end came into view and my son gave a cheerful, “Tips up!”

When we unloaded, there was a map board barely visible through the fog and dark. But when we skied up it it, we found the map itself was completely unreadable. Damn. I could read the signs pointing to different slopes, but none of the names meant anything to me. Double damn.

The racers swept past behind us. I watched where they went, knowing I didn't want to go that way. Far to the right of them was a welcome sign.

“Easiest way down,” I read, pointing out the sign to my son. If we were where we were supposed to be, the easiest way down was a very easy intermediate slope, more of an advanced beginner slope. If we weren't where we were supposed to be, and I honestly couldn't tell... Well, it couldn't be harder than the race course and we'd both done harder slopes than that, just not while people were racing and we couldn't see anything. “All we have to do is follow the signs until we can cut back to where we were.”

Ninety percent of the lift traffic went to the race course, so we were able to hobble down the easy way without worrying about other skiers at all. We skied into the light and I saw trees that I was almost sure were ones I knew. Almost. It really was hard to tell since I'd never been there in either fog or darkness before.

The fog got heavier, but we didn't panic. It was part of our adventure.

The above story is a piece of narrative nonfiction about a dark and foggy night on a ski slope. It was ten years ago. The little kid with me, the one who was worried I'd gotten him onto a slope that was too hard, is now an adult and a professional ski instructor who can do that run backwards. Meanwhile, I've gotten older and less willing to try things in the dark due to failing vision. C'est le vie.

The photograph was grabbed from a YouTube video collecting a series of night lift in the fog shots. (https://youtu.be/jxLYocI3ipY) It shows more visibility than we had, but it was the closest thing I could find in the time I gave myself to search.