Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Denali Sunrise

Image result for Denali from fairbanks





Jen Beasley was not impressed with her first hour in Alaska. When she had stepped off the plane in Fairbanks, the Golden Heart City, she was ready for a new adventure.  After a bad break up, spending the summer in Denali National Park as a forest ranger was exactly what she needed.  Fresh air, wildlife, thousands of miles empty wilderness; that was what her heart needed to heal.  What it didn’t need was a jammed finger when she picked up her luggage or nearly giving herself a concussion when she tripped over her own feet and landed head first into the stuffed polar bear exhibit next to baggage claim.

It certainly didn’t need a pair a bright blue eye staring down at her as she struggled to stand back up. Nor, did it need those eyes to offer a hand up, which she accepted and then bit back a scream because: jammed finger.

“Danny,” offered blue-eyes as he helped her to her feet, “These red-eye flights are a pain, huh?”

“Red-eye?” Jen looked outside the airport's windows to broad daylight, “Oh, I guess they weren’t kidding about the midnight sun.”

“What brings you to the state?”

Jen frowned a bit as she rubbed her hand, “Escapism, I guess.”

“Bad break-up?”

“Umm…”

“Sorry for asking,” replied Danny, “I didn’t catch your name.”

“I suppose you didn’t,” Jen responded as she gathered her bags and walked toward the line of yellow cabs lining the curb.

“See you around,” Danny called after her.

Jen woke up to her hand throbbing.  Her ring finger was now the size of a deflated sausage.

“Great,” she muttered.

Her disappointment fled as she opened the heavy window curtains of her hotel room to a bright sunny day, full of chirping birds and slow rivers.

She drug a brush through her dark hair and across her teeth, as she hurried to get outside.  At the base of the staircase she tripped over her untied shoelace straight into the arms of…

“Well hello again,” said Danny.  A grin spread across his face.

Jen let out a breath.  Who had time for attractive men when there was a whole new world to
see?

“What are you doing up at this hour,” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s four in the morning.”

“But,” Jen looked outside at the black-headed chickadees bouncing around in front of the exit.

“Midnight sun, remember? Come on,  I will show you around.  There is a great place to watch the world come alive just a few miles from here.”

“Ok, then. Humor me.  Why should I?”

“This not the time for questions.”

He took her by the arm and led to a school bus.

Jen looked at him through the side of her glasses.

“Oh, I’m a tour bus driver in Denali. I drive for the school district in the winter.  I was picking up employees last night so they didn’t have to take a cab.  Missed one young lady by the name of Jen Beasley.  Don’t suppose you know her.”

Jen looked down at her feet, face reddening.

“I thought so,” he laughed, “well come on we don’t have all morning.”

Danny drove the yellow monstrosity through the grey streets of Fairbanks slowly.  They crossed several bridges that all went across the same river.  The morning fog was settled across the whole city, giving it a dreamy look.  They turned left into an empty parking lot that said “Creamer’s Field”.  Jen saw walking paths through the tall green grass, but no other people.

“Are you going to murder me,” asked Jen.

“A little late to worry about that now,” Danny laughed.

They wound their way through the labyrinth of trails until a tall platform appeared in front of them.  It was pointed south across a lake with Canadian Geese and Trumpeter swans serenely resting on the surface.  Jen could hear wood ducks just beyond the reeds and every few moments a handsome blue kingfisher dove into the tepid water.

“Stop being distracted by the waterfowl, look that way.”

Jen followed Danny’s outstretched arm to a grey horizon.

“There is nothing…”

Just then the fog broke and in the distance, across the city and still hundreds of miles away the mountain known as Denali was illuminated by the sun.  It was still white with snow and dwarfed everything around it.

“Welcome to Alaska Miss Jen Beasley, I hope you will like it here.”

Yes, this is what her heart needed.








Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Kitchen Witch


On Christmas and Easter Sunday
we are good Catholics
heads bowed in prayer
around a rich table
of family
and old recipes
that have too much
hand churned butter.
At the altar of the
kitchen stove
woman mingle
for gossip and mixed drinks.
We do not acknowledge
the kitchen witches
hung from the ceiling
gathering all the bad spirits
and household dust.
On these days
we are too busy
initiating the youngest
cousin into the art of
grapefruit slicing
to explain that
these traditions
are not superstition,
just added protection
for our own 
sacred space.






Monday, April 15, 2019

The North Wind





Skyla’s ears popped as the air pressure changed.  Out the window, the sea began to boil as purple clouds descended on the island. Several ships on the horizon began a mad scramble to make it to safe harbor before the storm hit.  The first gust hit the lighthouse making the hanging plants in the window dance back and forth.  Skyla looked at the mostly full bowl of puppy chow sitting on the floor and looked out the still open door to see the newest addition to her life digging a hole in the soft dirt near the fence post.  She sighed as she slipped on her windbreaker to chase him down.  Today was no day to be outside.

She called to Oscar as she walked out the door, he looked at her and then continued to dig at the old dilapidated fence post that marked the edges of the island.

“We don’t have time for this,” Skyla complained to no one as the icy wind whipped her hair around her head, promising knots she did not want to brush out.

Skyla fought the mounting winds to where Oscar was digging his hole.  In his mouth was a stick that still had whatever tree he had found it from dryad still hanging on to it.  The small wood spirit tugged ineffectively on the stick as the puppy was determined to bury it.

“None of us have time for this, the North Wind is on his way,” Skyla said as she picked up puppy, stick, and dryad and put them under her arm and struggled against the winds back into the safety of the lighthouse.

Shutting the door and throwing the lock behind her, Skyla put the puppy in front of the food dish and dryad in with the rest of the wood.  The wood spirit cried in protest about the dead trees she was surrounded by.

“Calm down, it isn’t anyone you know.  You are the only tree on the island, and I will bring you home tomorrow.  Would you rather sit by the fire?”

The little spirit swore at her in the language of wood.

“I thought not.”

Wind blasted the small lighthouse again.  Oscar ducked underneath the heavy kitchen table and whined.

Skyla looked out through the small window and saw the 6-horse chariot of the spirit of the north wind riding down upon them.

“Shit,” she whispered as she turned to run up the stairs.
There were 76 stairs wrapped around the inside of the lighthouse.  Her father made her memorize that number when she was young so she would never be lost in the darkness of her home.  Even after all of these years, her thighs ached by the time she reached the top.

Betsy had her face pressed against the glass when Skyla finally huffed her way to the last step.  The little flame demon spun in circles, red and yellow arms flickering as they reached above her, dress filling the entire glass of the lens.  Betsy stopped her joyous dance and pointed at the stack of wood in the corner, and then pointed at what Skyla imagined was her stomach.  ‘Did demons have stomachs?’  Taking a deep breath Skyla pulled open the wood box and pulled out some aged red cedar.  She had it shipped special every spring from the mainland, as it burned hot and long and just happened to be the only thing that Betsy would eat.  She was getting very particular in her hundred years of keeping Perseverance Lighthouse lit.

Betsy greedily grabbed at the wood the second Skyla opened her light. Her sharp teeth bared as she pulled it close to her.  The rich fragrance of cedar warmed the icy air, even as the wind continued to pick up speed.  On the horizon Skyla saw a lone ship still struggling against the waves, she was grateful that her fire demon would warn them of the rocks ahead.  A whine pulled her eyes from the violent storm that tossed the ship around like a puppet.

Oscar had somehow gotten his little puppy legs up all seventy-six winding stairs.  On his fuzzy back sat the slightly disgruntled looking dryad, hanging the stick just in front of the puppy’s face.  The Dryad was shaking her small stick are repeatedly at something behind Skyla.
“What the…” Skyla asked, just as the world went black.

#

She woke up to a world of glass shards and ice.  Something warm brushed her cheek.  She opened her eyes to see Oscar huddled as close to her as he could get.  The dryad held her stick like a sword, brandishing it something Skyla couldn’t quite see yet.

She pushed herself up and her eyes fell upon the shattered lens of the lighthouse.  Laying at the bottom of the broken was the curled-up form of Betsy, her cedar log just barely smoking from her touch.  Beyond the windows of the lighthouse were gone, and the North Wind now stood inside the small room.

The great spirit wore a cloak of grey clouds and lightning crackled across the storms of his eyes.  Those eyes looked at the fire demon that lay prone before him.  As he approached her, weathered hand extended Skyla bolted to her feet.

“Stop, can’t you see you are going to kill her.”

The North Wind did not pause as he clasped his icy hand around Betsy’s cooling body.  She disappeared within his fist.  As he opened it again, he blew the ashes of Betsy’s body into Skyla’s face and left.

With nothing left to do, Skyla picked up the dog and the Dryad and stumbled back down into the darkness of the lighthouse.  For the rest of the night, she watched through the lightning as the ship broke upon the rocks.  She could hear the screams of sailors over the laughs of the North Wind.








Friday, April 12, 2019

Titillation


On the cold dark days
of midwinter
murmurations of sparrows 
flit upon thick-limbed oaks
to burrow inside her hollow places
huddled together
languid in each other’s warmth.
Branches bend under the weight
of appreciation
and the sighs feathers
leave winter’s bite electric.
They fly as one,
leaving earth and tree
shaking
naked
alone
touched by ten thousand feathered breasts.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Aana

Image result for Whale bone arches
Amai finished the last mark on the young woman’s chin, gently pressing the lampblack into the hole that was created by the finest of ivory needles.  The girl's eyes were filled with tears, but she did not allow even one to grace her cheek.

“Ah, granddaughter,” laughed Amai, “you have done well.”

“Aana, do you think so?” she asked, gently touching her still bleeding chin, where three black lines now adorned her olive skin.

“I do, dear girl.”

The girl grinned and then cringed as her tattoo stretched in uncomfortable ways.

“What happens next, Aana?”

Amai stretched out her hand.

“Don’t be scared.  I just need you to come with me for a second.”

She led the girl from her own earthen home, through an archway of whale ribs to a small secluded tent, set well away from the rest of the tribe.

“In here, granddaughter.”

The sealskin tent was cold and lit only by a whale oil lamp.  In the corner were piles of caribou skins.

“What is this, Aana?” The girl looked scared, as they all did when this part of the ceremony began.

“Did your mother or sisters give you no hints?”

The girl's wide eyes told her they had not.

“Our land is filled with spirits.  Some are kind to us, but most are not.  It is your first cycle and you do not yet know how to follow all of the Pittailiniq.  You must learn how to avoid the seats of men, and how to use rabbit and moss to prevent your blood from spilling on their furs.  You are a beautiful young woman who is sure to attract our strongest young hunters. It would not do for you to make a mistake and bring a vicious Urayuli down upon him.”

“Oh,” said the girl, her eyes cast downward, “I would not wish to bring a wolfman down upon him.”

“Now, now, none of that.  A brave girl who does not cry for her first tattoo has no reason to cry because she has lessons to learn.”

The girl breathed deeply. “Yes, Aana.  It is clear I have much to learn. What is it that I will do in this tent?”

“You will not be lonely.  Your sister and your mother will be here soon.  They will tell you all of the histories of your ancestors, and what will be expected of you now that you have reached womanhood.  You will feast and be merry.”

Amai hugged her granddaughter and ducked her head out the door before the girl could see the tears that she could no longer contain.

The old woman walked down to the beach.  The last of the winter ice stood like curious polar bears on the shore.  She slowly made her way through them until she reached where the ocean met the shore.  The water was calm, not a wave touched where she stood. In the moonlight, she could see her reflection in the water.  Her face was lined with both age and the many tattoos she had received for her long life and many achievements. She was a mother, grandmother, and midwife.  Spiritual leader and daughter of Selene, the mother of all sea creatures. She looked down at the seal tattooed on her left arm, the first one she had done herself.

“Mother,” she whispered to the ocean, “I am so tired, might I come home to rest?”

From beneath the black sea rose a ringed seal, glowing almost silver in the moonlight.  It pulled itself to shore. As Amai watched it shed its skin and stepped into the night as a beautiful woman, covered with tattoos of all of Selene’s children.  She chuckled as the seal-woman walked toward her village. There would be many tales about this night.


As the new woman faded from sight Amai picked up the skin left behind, wrapped it tightly beneath her chin and walked into the Arctic water toward the kingdom of her mother.

 Authors Note: This story is based on several myths and true histories of the Inupiaq people of Northern Alaska.  I did my best to use Inupiaq words appropriately and to respect the rich heritage of the Inupiaq people.  Any misstep is solely my own fault.




Friday, April 5, 2019

When I am a Bird

When I am a bird
I will paint my feathers
warning colors
dip them in the poison
of exotic frogs
and sing the prettiest songs.
I will nest on the high
harsh cliffs
where all my flights are falls
they will never know rock bottom.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Dog Days


Detective Liz Richards was not having a good morning.  First, she spilled coffee on her favorite slacks, and then dropped her breakfast burrito on the floor.  This would have been ok, she had never been a graceful person, but in her frustration, she called out to her beloved dog, Grover, to come clean up the tasty mess that had been deposited all over the floor.  The tears came suddenly when she remembered that she sent Grover over the rainbow bridge six weeks ago.  His little brown tail wagged until the end, ignoring the pain of the cancer eating through him.
                “Shit,” Liz said, “I miss that little dude.”

Liz arrived to work about twenty minutes late, in pants that were just a little tight around the waist.  Liz was a not large person, but middle age had expanded her mid-section and no amount of time in the gym seemed to help.  She brushed her gray, fly-away hair behind her ear with a hand that had seen too many days unprotected in the sun, while she muttered about the bullshit that is aging with grace.  The Detective’s outlook was not improved when she saw the station commander waiting at her desk.
                “Liz, it’s so nice of you to join us on this lovely morning!”
                 “Captain,” she grimaced.
                Detective Richards and Captain Evelyn Wallace had both started on the force in the early 90’s.  At the time they were one of only a few women officers and so they became close. Both as workout buddies and friends.  Wallace advanced quickly through the ranks, while Liz took things slowly and tried her hardest to avoid extra responsibilities.  In the end, the added stress of being a Captain hadn’t affected Wallace much.  Both women had still aged like cheese; Evelyn like a fine cheddar that people spent thousands on; and Liz like the 3200-year-old block of cheese that was recently found in Egypt, described as a “solidified whitish mass; probably poisonous”.
                “Detective Richards, this is Officer Harris,” the Captain gestured to a young man who still had more acne than facial hair, “He is fresh out of the academy, where he was trained to be a hostage negotiator.  He graduated at the top of his class, and his Dean thought he would excel at the task here in Anchorage.”
Liz raised an eyebrow.  She could only remember two instances in the last twenty years were there was a hostage situation.
                “I see, welcome to APD Officer Harris,” said Liz
                “Which brings us to our next item of business,” a sly grin played across Evelyn’s face, “We need someone to show Officer Harris the ropes around here, and since he is our new negotiator, we need to experiment a bit to see where he will work day to day.  I didn’t want to assign him to just any beat cop on his first day.”
                Liz pursed her lips.
                “As the lead Detective I thought you could help him out for a few days.  I even have an assignment for you both: a wellness check, up on Hillside.”
                “Rookies and rich people. Must be my lucky day,” smiled Liz as she thought of ways to ‘accidentally’ drop Evelyn’s side arm into a bowl of jello, “Come on kid, let’s go check it out.”
               
Liz always loved the drive out of Anchorage.  Leaving the hustle of the city and suddenly emerging into the Alaska wilderness still took her breathe away after twenty years.  She and Grover used to spend their long summer weekends in the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula, while they were draped in the purple of lupins and fireweed, or took short walks along the boardwalks of the Potter Marsh.  Grover loved to bark at the sand pipers and gulls that called the brown waters of the marsh home.  An old pair of trumpeter swans used to honk right back at him and scare the family of muskrats that lived under the wood of the boardwalk.
Detective Richards was jolted out of her reverie by the sound of rapid tapping.  For a moment Liz was worried that her old Subaru had finally given up the ghost, instead she looked over to see Harris drumming out the opening solo to Billie Jean on her dashboard.
                “Could you not?” she asked.
                “Oh, sorry,” replied Harris as he pulled out a pen and his notebook and wrote down something quickly.
Before any further annoyances could occur, they turned left into the land of Hillside McMansions, the home of millionaires from down south who convinced themselves they were roughing it with seven bedrooms and dirt roads.  They quickly arrived at the house in question: a three-story monstrosity with bay windows that cost more than Liz would make in her life and millions of dollars’ worth of imported Douglas Fir.
                “Well, let’s get this over with,” said Liz.
As Liz and Harris walked to the front door, she noted that there was a Range Rover parked in the driveway, with room left over for another car on the far side of it.  Harris looked over to see what she was looking at.
                “Maybe they went somewhere?”
                “Hopefully.”
Liz admired the door as she rang the bell.  It was a piece of art with a carved tree placed in front of handmade frosted glass.  She was so lost in the details that she jumped when something hit the other side of the door.  The rookie fumbled for his pistol.
                “Put that away,” chided Liz, as the familiar form of a heart shaped nose and two padded paws pressed against the glass, “or maybe not,” she reconsidered, as the paw prints left behind streaks of blood.
                The heavy wooden door swung open with ease when Detective Richards tried the handle.  The Foyer was a mess of mud, blood and fur.  A pair of muddy hiking boots were piled haphazardly next to an equally disheveled looking dog.  They sat in sharp contrast to the cherry wood desk that was piled high with mail and other official looking documents.
                “That’s a good boy,” whispered Liz to the small bowlegged animal.
Harris entered the house right behind her and swore under his breath, as his legs almost went out from under him on the slick flooring.  The Detective caught him by the arm and shook her head at him, as she followed the trail of mud and blood further into the house. 
                “Quick reaction time,” he said.
The inside of the house was just as magnificent as the outside, adorned with exotic hardwood floors and covered in magnificent art pieces, including a life size abstract piece of a dog shaking water from its fur with the title “Walter” bolted to the wall in silver just below it.  To the left was a less conventional piece of work; WHORE was written in large red spray-painted letters that had dripped down the walls. 
                “Hold on to your stomach rookie.”
The trail of blood led them past a marbled bathroom.  The faucet on the footed bathtub was still running causing water to flow over the side and down a metal heating vent.  On the ground next to a shelf was a large metal statue of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead.  Its heavy copper base was deeply dented and stained with browning blood.  A red hand print was stamped behind the toilet and smeared around the door frame.  Liz signaled to Harris to turn off the water.
                “With gloves,” she snapped, as he tried to do it bare-handed.
The blood splatters lead down a set of stairs to the basement, where the overflowing tub had left nearly an ankle-deep quagmire of blood, mud and household cleaning products floating in disarray.  Lying face down in the slurry at the bottom of the stairs was, Liz was forced to assume, their wellness check.
Officer Harris was just a few steps behind her and gasped at the sight.
                “Oh, umm, is he, umm, I think, how would you like to?”
                “Officer, I need you to go outside and call immediately for back up and a bus.”
                “I can help…”
                “Harris, now is not the time for negotiating. Do as you are told.”
As the Officer stumbled back up the stairs, Detective Richards turned back toward the chaotic scene.  She wrestled the man over onto his back and checked for a pulse.  He had been dead for some time, and the wound on the back of his head was the sickly grey of dead meat.  Confirming the man’s demise, she retreated upstairs, not wanting to cause further destruction to the crime scene.
Screaming could be heard before Liz exited the basement.  She sighed and mustered up as much dignity as she was able to in her too tight pants that were now wet and covered in gross up to her knees.  Rounding to corner to the foyer, she saw Harris trying to calm down a richly dressed, middle-aged woman in a fur coat.  Who wears a fur coat in August? Liz asked herself.
                “Please ma’am.  I need you to calm down. I’m a hostage negotiator with APD, we have everything under control here.
Harris’s attempts at mediation failed when the woman slipped past him and into the house.  Liz wasn’t sure if the angry screams that burst from the woman’s lips were because she saw the mud and blood, or because she saw a strange woman standing in her home.  Regardless, the woman lost what was left of her dignity and stumbled toward Liz.  Her shoes lost purchase on the slick flooring and she and her expensive fur coat slide into the living area.  As she struggled back to her feet, covered in the offal she slid through, she saw the writing on the wall.
                “Whore!  Who are you to come into my house and call me a whore?” screamed the woman.
                “Detective Liz Richards with the ADP.  Please come outside, we have a few questions for you.”
The two women walked outside, one muttering whore under her breath and the other rolling her eyes.  Harris stood in the driveway looking embarrassed and talking quietly to a man who had arrived at the same time as the wife of the deceased.
                “And who is this?” asked Liz.
                The woman looked down at her feet, “This is my friend.”
                “Friend,” the man asked perplexed, “after all of this you say, ‘Friends’?”
                “Gary, you know I’m married.  Oh my god!  Did you write that on my wall?  You asshole!”
                “Write what?”
The woman in the fur coats’ eyes suddenly focused beyond her lover and settled on the black Range Rover behind him, “Is Evan home?  He can’t be home, he is supposed to be away for business all weekend.  Is that why that stupid fucking dog of his is covered and mud and bleeding everywhere?”  She turned on Harris, “Why the fuck are you two here?”
Before anyone could answer, another car pulled into the drive, much to Liz’s disgust it was neither the bus to transfer to dead man to the morgue or back up for a murder scene, but an electric blue Subaru STI, the definitive Alaska cool car.  The Detective knew that APD wasn’t exactly known for their promptness, but this was getting a little out of hand even for her patience.
A tall shapely blonde, who couldn’t have been more then twenty-five, stepped out of the car Liz just hoped she was over 18, or today was about to get even more complicated.  The wife glared dangers at her.  They younger woman looked the wife once over and said, “I thought you were supposed to be out of town.  Evan said he was leaving you divorce papers.”
Liz and Harris stepped between the two women before they could attack each other.
                “If you could all just stop for a minute, we need to speak with you.  We want to be able to help you in this situation,” Harris attempted to say calmly, “the man inside the house is dead and we need to find out what happened.”
Everyone sagged a bit under the words and stared agape at the Officer.
It was to stunned silence that back up finally arrived, in a cacophony of sirens and bright light.  A team of forensic experts flooded the house with tape and cameras. The body was brought out.  Other detectives took over the duties of questioning the three remaining lovers.  In Anchorage, crimes were never creative.  It was always the spouse or the lover or the spouse’s lover.  It was rare to catch all three in the same place though.
                “Nice negotiating skills Rookie, we almost had a quadruple homicide on our hands,” Liz slapped Harris on the back.
                “Yeah,” he sighed, “yeah.”
                “Liz, stop giving the kid such a hard time, I think he did a great job with today’s little experiment.  He found a body, didn’t let anyone die, didn’t puke in the crime scene,” Captain Evelyn joined them.
                Harris smiled nervously at the two women, “Who do you think did it?”
                “Aren’t you going to take them all downtown and start sorting that out?’ asked the Captain, “This experiment isn’t over yet, you can negotiate, but can you interrogate?”
                “Yes, sir. I mean Ma’am, I mean yes, I will go do that now,” Harris stuttered out.
                “Fucking rookies,” said Evelyn.
                “Fucking rookies,” Liz agreed.
                “Which one do you think did it,” asked Evelyn, as the two of them sat on the deck, taking a moment to breathe in the chaos.
                “None of them.  It was this fuzzy little murder-beast.”
She gathered the very muddy and scared Walter into her arms.
                “Oh, do tell.”
                “Well, my theory is, Mr. Dead Hypocrite found out his wife was cheating, and he spray painted his own wall to let her know, he knew.  He left the divorce documents on the desk out front.  Thinking he had a few hours until his young lover showed up, he took the dog for a walk and both returned home muddy.  He must have planned to take Walter with him when he left his wife.  He started to run a bath to get all of this grossness out of Walter’s hair.  Somehow while he was getting the dog in the tub a statue fell from a shelf in the bathroom and struck him hard across the back of the head.  Slightly dazed, he discovered that he was bleeding quite intensely and left the bathroom.  As he approached the basement door this little dude scrambled out of the tub and wrapped himself around his master’s feet, sending both of them careening down the basement stairs, leaving our victim unconscious at the base of the stairs where he eventually drowned in the water he didn’t turn off.”
                Evelyn nodded, “So, you’re keeping the dog?”
                “Of course.”