Everyday Christian, Passport, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

South Africa

South Africa, on the continent’s southern tip, is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and by the Indian Ocean on the south and east. Its neighbors are Namibia in the northwest, Zimbabwe and Botswana in the north, and Mozambique and Swaziland in the northeast. The kingdom of Lesotho forms an enclave within the southeast part of South Africa, which occupies an area nearly three times that of California.

The southernmost point of Africa is Cape Agulhas, located in the Western Cape Province about 100 mi (161 km) southeast of the Cape of Good Hope.

Facts from https://www.factmonster.com

Flag Photo from https://www.countryflags.com

Everyday Christian, Passport, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

Pakistan

Pakistan is situated in the western part of the Indian subcontinent, with Afghanistan and Iran on the west, India on the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south. The name Pakistan is derived from the Urdu words Pak (meaning pure) and stan (meaning country). It is nearly twice the size of California.

The northern and western highlands of Pakistan contain the towering Karakoram and Pamir mountain ranges, which include some of the world’s highest peaks: K2 (28,250 ft; 8,611 m) and Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft; 8,126 m). The Baluchistan Plateau lies to the west, and the Thar Desert and an expanse of alluvial plains, the Punjab and Sind, lie to the east. The 1,000-mile-long (1,609 km) Indus River and its tributaries flow through the country from the Kashmir region to the Arabian Sea.

Facts from https://www.factmonster.com

Flag Photo from https://www.countryflags.com

Everyday Christian, Passport, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

France

France is about 80% the size of Texas. In the Alps near the Italian and Swiss borders is western Europe’s highest point—Mont Blanc (15,781 ft; 4,810 m). The forest-covered Vosges Mountains are in the northeast, and the Pyrénées are along the Spanish border. Except for extreme northern France, the country may be described as four river basins and a plateau. Three of the streams flow west—the Seine into the English Channel, the Loire into the Atlantic, and the Garonne into the Bay of Biscay. The Rhône flows south into the Mediterranean. For about 100 mi (161 km), the Rhine is France’s eastern border. In the Mediterranean, about 115 mi (185 km) east-southeast of Nice, is the island of Corsica (3,367 sq mi; 8,721 sq km).

Facts from https://www.factmonster.com

Flag Photo from https://www.countryflags.com

Fiction, History, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

The Fourteen Laws of Bristershine Part 1

The Big To-do

All the china teacups were as white as pure Irish cream, the gold bands around the rims polished to a shine. They were perched on delicate white plates embossed with patterns of flowers and fruits, and guarding them on each side were silver sword-like knives. The crisp silk napkins had been folded perfectly, almost blending in with the white expanse of the snowy table cloth. Each chair had been positioned just so, with the utmost care. On the silver plate in the centre of the table rested a pound of butter that was all sharp angles. The perfume of tea roses floated in the air. It did not quite block the scent of scones Lily was baking in the kitchen. As we were not required to wear shoes in the summer when no guests were present, I let the silky grass caress my bare feet when I walked around the lawn. It was hard to think that anybody would find the table setting less than perfect. Satisfied, I spun on my heel and started toward the manner to get the hot water pots. The guests would be arriving soon.

“And where, Miss Charlotte, do you think you are going?” said a knife-on-plate voice. I stumbled to a halt, looking back. Mindy Little glared at me from behind my expertly set table, hands on her slender hips. I gulped.

“I’m just going to get the water!” I called to her, not coming any closer. I indicated the floating sundial on the sea fish pond. “Noon draws near.”

She threw up her hands. “That isn’t your job, Abigail. You were instructed to set the table. Lily will send the water with Joy!”

Mindy had dove grey eyes that could harden into steel at will, and corn silk hair that made her look angelic. But she was rarely kind to anyone, especially me, and it didn’t take much to ignite her rage. This trait left much to be desired of her since she was in charge of us all.

“Does the table not meet your expectations?” I asked.

“If I were a barbarian, why, yes it would,” she snapped. “But look at these teacups! What did you polish them with, an oil rag? And my, this table cloth appears as though you chucked it on without a care!”

She closed the distance between us to stand centimetres from my nose. We were the exact same height, and were often required to share clothes, which bated her to no end.

“Abigail,” she said slowly, as though I were daft. “This is Master and Missus Verlesk’s thirtieth anniversary tea. Everything must be perfect—”

But Mindy, for once, didn’t get to finish her tirade. Mrs. Verlesk came into view, with her bratty daughter Sasha whining at her side for one thing or another. I knew not how the girl could speak in such a manner to deaf ears, for it was perfectly obvious her mother had ceased listening the moment her daughter had opened her mouth.

“Abigail!” Mrs. Verlesk exclaimed now. “Did you set this table?”

“Yes, she did!” started Mindy accusatorially. “Isn’t it—”

“Marvellous!” Mrs. Verlesk, cut in, putting a hand to her heart. “Simply marvellous!”

Lips twitching, I stepped out from behind Mindy and curtsied as deeply as I could. Such curtsies were normally reserved for the Queen, but I tried to make a habit of living in the moment. “Thank you, Mrs. Verlesk.”

Mindy stood gaping in a dreadfully unladylike manner. She dropped like a rock when she realized Mrs. Verlesk was staring at her, awaiting an accompanying curtsy.

When the party of two went out of sight, I skipped off to get the water.

The Verlesk Manor sat on the top of a large hill, and the tea was to be held in the back garden. I happily ran up the hill, floating on Mrs. Verlesk’s praise. Ah, but what a lovely day it was. it was not too hot or cool, and the breeze was just enough to rustle the tearoses below. If I stood on the tips of my toes to see over the looming pines, I could see a bright carriage advancing from the foothills. But, being a servant, there was rarely any time to admire such things, so I pushed open the back door.

In the kitchen, the other servants had the oddest expressions on their faces. Twisted, like masks. I regarded them in a way that openly questioned their sanities before reaching for the kettle on the stove.

“We heard what happened outside,” said a small, shy voice that was on the verge of laughter. It was little Nell, who rarely ever spoke but was sweet as a thimble. “Miss Mindy looks like there’s a bee’s nest in her bonnet.”

The entire kitchen erupted with the suppressed laughter. The maids attempted to mimic Mindy’s shocked expressions, which brought on new waves of guffaws.

“Great job, Miss Charlotte,” said the chef’s assistant Jaebok, who couldn’t see the bright side of a candle. “I’m sure Ms. Mindy will be in good spirits now. Maybe I’ll be serving all your heads on a platter for the next tea.”

“No, Jaebok. It is not your head I will be requesting,” said Mindy, stepping from behind the door that we all thought was closed. She glared at me as she said this. I tensed, held in her fiery gaze like a matchstick. Everyone was frozen in various stages of what ever tasks I had interrupted. “But that is not why I have come,” she continued.

A silent groan permeated the kitchen. Mindy had her about-to-give-a-lecture voice on. I sat down on a little bench beside Nell while the water pot grew cold in my hands. This was going to be a long one.

Thanks to Mindy, Lily had to hastily re-boil the water, and though we were not late, we did miss the beginning of Mr. Verlesk’s speech. We servants were required to stay out of sight unless our presence is requested, but some of Mr. Verlesk’s speeches took hours and we were never needed then. Mrs. Verlesk encouraged us to watch from behind the garden hedge if we wanted. Poor Lily had to stay in the hot kitchen, and Mindy would never be troubled with our affairs. Nell, Jaebok, I and some other maids huddled behind the hedge, speaking to one another in hushed tones about the guests we could barely make out behind the branches.

“My, Master Luke is looking especially arrogant today,” Helen commented with a whispered laugh. “I wonder whose soul he had for breakfast this morning.”

“I reckon it was that of poor Carla,” Jane suggested, pointing out the sulking girl. “I wonder why she hangs on him so. Does she not know he will never look at her as more than his next fix?”

“I think not, but I beg of you, let us not speak of him,” said Jaebok. “Little pitchers have big ears, you know.”

Dorothy snorted. “What pitchers? These roses? My, you do fret nonsense.”

“Indeed,” said Gretchen, “but the boy does have a point. We, as the servants of this household, must watch what we say in the presence of…well, no one in particular, really.” She laughed heartily.

“Shhhh!”

We were still, eying the party on the green. Mr. Verlesk droned on, the guests merely pretending to be listening. “And now,” he was saying, “I would like to demonstrate to you our accumulated wealth by presenting to you the maids of this house!”

We leapt to our feet. “What is this?” exclaimed Lucy. “When has Master Verlesk ever requested our presence at one of his speeches?” We hiked our skirts and hustled out of the hedge.

Mindy gripped my arm. “Abigail, he doesn’t mean you. You may be a maid, but you are not on the staff. Go back behind that bush.” She shoved me.

I sat back limply in the grass, watching my friends and Mindy parade in front of the guests. My chest tightened with longing.

In the direction of the peach tree orchard, footsteps thudded on the thirsty earth, loudening at an alarming rate. With a gasp, I hurried in the other direction. I looked once over my shoulder to find a shadow drifting in the peach trees, which was a big mistake. When I turned around again, I was too late to stop myself from running smack into the tall stranger in my path.

“Master!” I exclaimed, wide eyed. “Forgive me! I was not watching where I was going—”

“Well, that’s quite alright,” he said. His soft, kind tone of voice made me look up at him in surprise. He was young, perhaps seventeen, with curling golden hair and soft blue eyes. He smiled gently at my look of shock. “It doesn’t seem to be your fault; may I ask who you are running from?”

“Um—I—I’m not sure, really. I was hiding, and someone was coming, and I didn’t want to get in trouble—” I stopped. I was speaking as though he would care. “But anyway, I really must be on my way. and again, I apologize, Mr…”

“Gregory. Carson Gregory.” He smiled again. “But you may call me Carson. I am only seventeen, in truth, and the title of ‘Mr.’ or ‘Master’ gives me the impression that I am absurdly aged.”

I nodded, curtsied, and started back toward the hedge. The mysterious figure was gone. “But wait!” said Mr. Gregory. “What is your name, maiden?”

I curtsied again. true, I was not in traditional maid’s attire, as Mrs. Verlesk insisted we be dressed as regular people. I thought about lying to him, but that had only caused problems for me in the past. “I am a maid, not a maiden, Mr. Gregory, and my name is Abigail Charlotte.”

He bowed gallantly. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

The way his eyes shone when he said this, I wondered if it really was a pleasure meeting a red-headed maid’s apprentice who had almost knocked him over. Maybe it was the friendliness in his eyes or his kind manner, but I found myself asking him what he was doing out here, anyway.

“My uncle’s speeches bore me to death,” he whispered. “I had to get away, and these gardens are certainly lovely. I suppose I must be getting back soon. It sounds as though he has finished.”

To my horror, I could make out the sound of faint applause beyond the trees. “Oh, no!” Without another word, I was off again.

I grabbed a teapot off the cart and stood with the other maids, ready to offer more when the teacups ran low. My heavy breathing attracted curious looks from the servants, but no one uttered a word. I scanned the cups.

My eyes came to rest on Master Gregory, who was seated beside an attractive young woman, talking animatedly. She laughed merrily and placed her hand over his. For a moment they just stared into each others eyes, and I felt an inexplicable sense of disappointed.

“Abigail!” hissed Mindy. “I think that man over there would like some more tea.” She said this with a jovial smile, but the malice lacing her words was unmistakable.

Walking as gracefully as I could, I poured tea for many more people, who seemed to have all run out at precisely the same time. All except Master Gregory’s, at least. He and his companion hadn’t touched theirs. I kept my eyes down when I passed him.

At the head of the table, the Verlesks were engaged in conversation with Sasha and Luke, which was odd. Luke was usually flirting with some hapless girl or piteous Carla, and Sasha usually just picked sullenly at her food. Naughty maid that I was, I drifted closer on the pretence of offering more tea. I had grown accustomed to being invisible.

“Tea?” I inquired of a gentleman sitting near them, all the while listening to the conversation.

“Please, do!” Sasha was exclaiming, clapping her hands in delight.

“Yes, I agree.” Luke nodded as though in thought, but I knew he was most likely just checking to make sure his gloves were still impeccably spotless. “You and father need a break. And I hear the ocean is particularly blue this time of year.”

“We’ll take care of everything,” Sasha put in. “Or you could call Grandma to come watch us.”

“But, Luke,” protested Mrs. Verlesk. “You are barely nineteen, and Sasha’s only twelve. How can we leave you alone for a whole month?”

“Now, Wanda,” laughed Mr. Verlesk. “What do you think we hired the nannies for? The children will be fine.”

“I’ll have some tea, Abigail.” Mrs. Verlesk motioned me over absently. Disappointed, I poured tea for all four of them and left.

“I think our master and mistress are planning on leaving somewhere,” I announced in the servants quarters that night. “Somewhere near the ocean.”

“Indeed,” said Lucy in surprise. “Have you not heard? Master got offered a job near Bristershine, but Mrs. Verlesk insists that the place is a madman’s town.”

“So Master is trying to convince her to take a trip there to prove what it is really like.” Helen giggled. “But I have been there, as a nanny once. It is simply marvellous! I would like to see the look on the Mistress’s face when she sees the beauty of it.”

“So what you’re saying,” I cut in. “Is that they are most likely going to move? But what will become of us?”

There was silence. “I suppose we will be left unemployed. I don’t think they intend to keep us if they can get some new servants in Bristershine. Mrs. Verlesk likes to keep the help local,” Lily said after a pause. She shrugged, but her shoulders sagged. “Oh, well.”

“Now, Lily,” said wise old Dorothy. “You cannot be sure of that. you are a wonderful cook. They always keep the good ones.”

“No, they don’t.” Lily seemed sad. “They have moved to at least five different towns, and they only employ ‘the good ones’ in the first place, and all of you came here when I did.”

I sat on the edge of my bed, with its nice feather blankets and pillows like wheat bags of cottony snow. Before working for the Verlesks, I had worked for a kindly old lady named Bernice Featherstone. When she died, they turned up almost right away to take some of her servants, but I was the only one who did not yet have a new master. Bernice’s recommendations had attracted employers like fleas. But I had only been here for a year, and already I was going to have to leave? I had only worked for two houses so far, and they had both been extremely pleasant, but I feared I would not be so lucky next time.

Sasha stormed into the room then, startling us all. We hastily stood up and curtsied.

“Abigail! Come help me undress for the night!” she ordered, pointing a bony finger at me. I jerked imperceptibly. I followed behind her at a cautious clip.

“Has Wendy taken ill?” I asked once I had closed the door to her vast room.

“No!” she whined, the sound grating on my ears. “I don’t like Wendy anymore.”

“Oh. I see.” Sasha often decided she didn’t like people for no apparent reason. I doubted Wendy took any offence.

I loosened Sasha’s stays and took the blue ribbons out of her hair. She didn’t say a word as I slipped her lace nightgown over her head.

“Is that satisfactory?” I asked her when I was done.

She nodded. “Yes, quite. You may take an hour for yourself outdoors, Abigail. It is a splendid night to be out, don’t you think?”

I smiled at her. “Yes, Miss Sasha. Thank you.” She nodded at me with a small smile. I curtsied, and made my smooth way out of her room. When I was in the silent hall, I clicked my heels together and sprinted out the back door.

I ran to the creek, cloaked spookily in darkness. The night birds chirped happily, and the water bubbled blackly like an uncertain joke. “Good evening, pretty creek,” I said with a bow. I kicked off my shoes and dipped my feet in the cool water.  My skin prickled.

I longed to jump in waist deep, but I didn’t want to get my dress all wet and drip in the house for Helen to clean up. Along with her random inspirations of dislike, Sasha enjoyed giving out random byes. I didn’t want to stir up any petty jealousies.

Despite the garden noises, it was oddly silent here. A feeling of peace drifted down on me like a warm blanket. I breathed in the smell of soil and blossoms and herbs, and warm summer air. When the sounds of humanity were taken away, you were left with nothing but this. It was just the way I liked it.

An hour wasn’t much, but it was something. I stretched out along the bank, staring at the stars. They were hard for me to see, but I thought I could make out the Pole Star over the treetops. Bliss, is what it was.

“Hello there.”

I sat bolt upright. “Mr. Gregory?” I stammered incredulously.

“Yes, it is I.” He stepped into sight. “How do you do, Miss Charlotte?”

“Um.” I struggled to my feet. “Quite well, thank you. May I assist you with anything? I mean something?”

He shook his head. I couldn’t see his face very well. “No, I was just wandering. Are you hiding again?”

I blushed. “No, Master Carson. I was given an hour of time to myself. I came to enjoy the peace.”

“I see. So, am I disturbing your peace?”

I kicked myself mentally. “No! I mean, of course not. But may I ask you something?”

“Certainly.” He took a seat on a felled tree that served perfectly as a bench. I thought of pointing out that his suit would be soiled.

“Why did you not leave like the other guests? It is quite late to be visiting.” He was so unlike other young men he regressed me through years of training.

“Mr. Verlesk is my uncle,” he told me. “I may stay for as long as I like.”

I blushed deeper. “Yes, of course. Forgive my boldness. I must be on my way.”

“Wait, Miss Charlotte!”

I paused. “Yes, Mr. gregory?”

“Must you really be leaving? I really could use some company.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “As you wish, Master Gregory.”

“Carson. Won’t you have a seat, Miss Charlotte? How long have you been out here, may I ask?”

I awkwardly perched on a different tree bench with his lady friend in mind, the rough bark pinching my skin with wizened claws. “Just fifteen minutes, I think.” I didn’t volunteer more information than I felt I had to. I still wasn’t sure what he wanted with me.

“I see. So how long have you been working for my uncle and aunt?”

“Almost a year. It was about this time last summer that a friend of mine showed me this place.”

“it is quite lovely.” He gazed at the water. “Have you ever been canoeing?”

I blanched. Why would I want to do that? “No, I haven’t. Have you?”

“Yes, many times. It is quite enchanting, especially in the spring. Where I come from, there are blossoms all year long on most of the trees, and the waters are always pristine and clear.”

“That sounds pleasant,” I said sceptically.

He laughed, and it ricocheted back to us from a thousand different places. “You don’t believe me. I must take you some time.”

Was he forgetting that I was a maid? “Sure?”

He laughed again, further deepening my sense of utter confusion.

“Do you hear that?” I said suddenly, standing up. “I think it is Master Luke! I’m sorry, I really must be going! Thank you for the visit!”

And I took off, in the opposite direction of the manor.

It was a while before I realized I was going the wrong way. I took a roundabout way, making sure to stay clear of the creek. I gave it such a wide berth that it took me the rest of my hour to get back.

The memory was still clear in my mind, of my first day on the job. Paul had found me after my first falling out with Mindy, crying in the broom cupboard.

“Hello, you’re the new maid, right?” he said when he saw me there.

I quickly wiped my tears. “Yes. Do forgive me. how do you do?”

He kneeled in front of me. “I’m fine, Abigail. I’m assuming you met Mindiache?”

Her name, of course, made me giggle. “No wonder she’s such a miserable—”

He held up a hand, green eyes twinkling. “Now, now, Miss Charlotte.”

I grinned. He helped me out of that broom cupboard, and as it was our break for afternoon tea, we walked arm-in-arm to the stable together, never ceasing our meaningless chitchat.

“Want to go for a little ride?” he asked me when we stood outside the stall of Mr. Verlesk’s horse Vesuvius.

“I’ve never been on a horse before,” I said nervously.

“Are you scared?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then you can ride double with me. Come on, I want to show you something. It will help you deal with Mindiache.”

So, we rode double on Vesuvius, all the way to the creek. In the day time, it was fascinating how the pollen and dandelion fluff floated on the sun rays, the creak slipping over rocks and under tree-bridges. Bright flowers grew along the banks, and ivies embraced the enormous tree trunks.

He reached into the water and pulled out a perfectly round blue and green stone. “Put this in your pocket,” he told me, “and whenever you feel like you could kill Mindy, touch it and think of this place. Pray for her soul, and I promise you will feel better.”

Just him saying those words made me suddenly and magically impervious to her vicious austerity. The stone sat in the drawer of my locked false-bottom jewellery box he had bought me.

Paul’s family moved that winter for a better-paying job down East, and I never saw him again.

I crawled into bed, and lulled myself to sleep by counting the sweet kisses Paul and I had shared during our time together, each one distinct and burned into my memory. And though the memories made me smile, I felt like a superheated flake pastry gone bad.

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, Story, Unwritten Hope

The King


         The story was that he was a dangerous, ruthless renegade. Nobody thought he would ever come back, after “disappearing” five years ago, to take a final bow before the curtain closed on his act. He was like the midnight train that had jumped the track. He moved like a ghost, and he always had his earphones hanging down around his neck. He was a legend at Northwest Academy. Daniel the King, Renegade Quade. Everyone had different names for him. Though most had forgotten him, no one had forgotten those days on the riverbank playing Camelot. In a way Daniel was just an ordinary kid, with a strange way of making you do what he wanted. And he didn’t even know he had that power over people. He was just someone people listened to. Like Hitler. And that’s what scared the teachers. In reality, Daniel was a sweet, creative boy, and he got a kick out of the fact that everyone thought he was a hood. Especially since it proved how gullible people really are, and it made the plan so much easier.  
         The parking lot was empty except for one midnight blue model T. It was raining. The grass was dusted with silver, brightening the green of the abundant poplars. Almost everyone was standing at the floor-to-ceiling window in the cafeteria, watching him. From the Ford trunk, he took his old beat-up guitar case, slung his black bag over his shoulder. He wore jeans and a blue NWA hoodie that was pulled up to hide his dark hair. The stillness of the cafeteria allowed us to hear the steps of his boots. He walked up the steps of the North Dorm House and disappeared. 
         The clock on the far wall ticked loudly, and the monitors hadn’t noticed our preoccupation yet. 
         “Daniel William Quade,” someone breathed. “The King is back.”
         We glanced at each other, than back at the boarding house. The door never opened again. Conversation restarted in low, uncertain murmurs. What was he doing here? He was supposed to be gone without a trace, having been forgotten from our minds since we were thirteen. The only person left now at the window, I pressed my hands to the glass and peered into the rain. Room sixty-seventy-nine, seven floors up. Daniel was there, watching me. 
         I was the only one who knew why he had “disappeared,” and I knew why he was here now. With a slow, deliberate motion, he put his finger to his lips with a little smile. 
         The King was back, indeed.
         “Ali!” exclaimed Felicity Colter like she had been looking for me everywhere. “Principal Thomson requests your presence in his office at once! Make haste, if you please!” Felicity was obsessed with talking like an eighteenth century Londoner. I dumped my breakfast tray on the cafeteria conveyor belt and wandered into the hall. If Mr. Thomson said he wanted to see me in his office, he really meant that he was being held up in the hallway by some business call and I would have better luck finding him in the Garner wing. I knew him. Sometimes it felt like I was his personal servant or something. I was chagrined to see that I still had fifteen minutes before my first class. 
         When I found him, I walked alongside him. He was striding down the wing flanked by Ms. Gregson and Mr. Hart, whom Daniel and I liked to call his government officials. He was shouting at some poor unfortunate soul over his bluetooth headset. Daniel and Mr. Thomson shared the same thick dark hair and wide brown eyes, though Thomson’s were always popped out of his face in rage and Daniel tried to keep his narrowed and fierce. 
         “Will you hold on a minute?” he screamed irritably, and it was only evident that he was talking to me when he halted his furious stride and fixed his eyes on mine. 
         “Ali. I need you to run the recompense initiative by Mr. Sandlan again, he just doesn’t seem to understand. Sometimes I think that man is a just a lazy little–well, never mind.” he grimaced and pressed his finger to his ear again. “Hello! Yes, about the student files…”
         I mashed my teeth together as I walked back toward the main building. Just because I was student body president…This was just part of the plan, just part of the plan. I worried that this was working a little too well. 
         The recompense initiative. Designed to reward the good behavior of students, it centered around grades, attendance, and general behavior. Every percent and days you go to school goes into your recompense account, and interest rises or falls depending on your attitude. If you landed in the principal’s (Mr Thomson’s) office, you got recompense taken away, and you could use more to get yourself out without a record. If you got a poor score on a test you could carry over your score from an assignment to make it look better, except that one test percent was worth eight assignment percents. I created the whole thing, and now it was up to me to put it into effect. 
         I went to class early and sat reading my full collection of Sherlock Holmes. It was almost the only time I got to myself. The guy amazed me, and his science of deduction was fascinating, if not mind-boggling. The classroom soon filled up, and I knew when Daniel walked in the second silence dropped over the room like a cloud. Like in the cafeteria, it seemed like the only sound was that of his black boots. I hardly looked up from my book to catch him sauntering in, staring broodingly at a couple of people and an extra-long stare at Professor Sandlan. Inside I was dissolving with laughter. This was not the boy who was afraid of moths and thought I Am Number Four was the best thing that had happened to humanity. Just the other day he was standing in the topmost branches of the old sycamore tree trying to signal Pittacus Lore or the Mogadorians or something.  Now he kicked his boots up onto the desk in front of him, flipped back his rain soaked hood, and nodded at the teacher. Letting him know that he, the life of the crowd, had arrived, and the party could begin.

         We usually met at the river, but the weather was still giving us grief so we decided to meet in the old home ec room at lunch. He was restless, pacing back and forth. The small enclosed room enticed him to lean against the wall as if he could hold it back. He wasn’t quite Daniel Quade yet; the King had quite a grip sometimes. I announced myself by dumping my bag on the desk. 
         “Glad to have you back.”
         “Yeah, well, i didn’t think my father would manage to make such a mess of everything.” He was talking about the recompense initiative. 
         “Um, yeah. Totally. Your father did that all by himself, that’s right.” I shut my mouth. I would never need a polygraph in life. I was a terrible liar in the first place. I don’t know why I didn’t just tell Daniel the truth, that it was me who had done it, not Mr Thomson, because that would mean I had deviated from the plan. I didn’t want to face him, and I didn’t know who I would face. Daniel or the King. I didn’t want to find out. 
         “So what’s our status on Operation: Plan B?” Daniel asked, perching on the stool next to me. I flinched away, thinking that he would somehow read my mind. It wouldn’t have mattered. In short, this was not good.

2013-01-19

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

Ghost Girl Chapter 3

Homeless

Austin

Grief is a strange thing. It has many faces, many forms. Sometimes it incapacitates you, sometimes it drives you to do something more. I remember when I lost my mother to tuberculosis. In that time, my grief came in the obvious form of sadness. When I lost my sister, Launna, to alcohol addiction, I felt stifling anger at her and at the world in general. When I lost my brother Caleb to the lights and chance of Vegas, I felt betrayed. But when I lost my father to the denial of false love, I barely felt anything. It was still grief.

Yes, I know grief.

I know that there is nothing anyone on the outside world can do about it. It’s something you have to deal with yourself. But you don’t have to do it alone. I knew what it was like to lose something you truly cared about.

My empathy toward Peyton was above the comfort of acquaintance. I didn’t know her, but I knew what she was going through as we watched her house burn to the ground. It was something a kind word couldn’t fix. So I didn’t say anything.

It was mid-afternoon when the flames finally sputtered out. I looked at Peyton. She was staring straight ahead, not seeming to see anything. Her gaunt face looked sallow. Wordlessly, she stood and walked toward the ashes of her home.

She was Ghost Girl again as she glided over the soot, kicking piles of unrecognizable ash. Every so often she would kneel and pick up a piece of pottery or china or anything else that had not burned. I stayed in the same spot, watching her, wishing I could help, knowing she would talk when she was ready. If she talked. I was a stranger, after all.

Chaku was nowhere in sight. I almost wondered where he was, but I had better things to worry about and anyway, he was a big boy now.

Had anyone seen the flames or smelled the smoke? The estate was practically secluded. Had her family gotten out? I had a sick feeling that I knew the answer.

Peyton let out a long, shrill scream.

I sprang to my feet. “What’s wrong?” I shouted. She didn’t seem to hear me. She stared at a pile of dust in front of her, a look of pure, indescribable horror on her face. I raced to her side and looked. I felt bile rise in my throat. I almost gagged.

There, staring out of the ash with dead eyes was a burnt, bloody face.

Peyton screamed again. The sound was half strangled by a sob. I stared at the sightless eyes for one second more. Then I grabbed Peyton around the waist and hauled her out of there. She kicked and screamed all the way. I didn’t stop until I couldn’t smell the death and smoke any more. It was long time.

I propped Peyton against a tree. She had gone limp in my arms along the way. Her head lolled back onto the trunk. She moaned.

Poor, poor Peyton. Anorexia, falling off a cliff, watching her house burn, seeing the charred face of whom I was guessing had been a family member. The sadness and pain I felt for the stranger woman was indescribable. Given her current state of anorexia—the word made me want to spit in anger—she should have been in a state of comatose. But she was stronger than I had given her credit for.

She opened her eyes. They searched around wildly for a few minutes before finding my face. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a high-pitched keening. It broke my heart. She needed food. Or did she? Was it bad to give anorexic people food? I mean, had she gone without eating so long that eating something now would disrupt her system? I didn’t know. But I’m sure giving her water would be okay. And then I could try a little bit of food. Maybe I could even get her to a doctor. She would not die on my watch.

I knew exactly where we were. I picked Peyton up as gently as I could. Sure enough, ten minutes later, we reached Lake Comatista. I lowered her limp form into the cold water, feet first. Suddenly she jerked and screamed in surprise.

“Ach, that is COLD!” she cries. Trying to get away. I keep her in until I see her eyes lose their glazed, lost look. Then I pulled her out. She thrashed like a wet cat.

“What was that for?” she demanded, crossing her arms. I set her on her feet. She sways slightly.

“Are you okay now?” I ask, stepping back as she shakes herself off. She glares at me.

“If by sopping wet and begging for pneumonia, than yeah, I am right as rain.” sarcasm drips from her voice like the water from her nightgown. I wondered if she was always this feisty. I chose to go with yes.

I was feeling immense relief. I was actually able to laugh. “You’ll be fine. Now drink.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

“Yes you are,” I insisted. “Drink, or else.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Or else what?”

I took a suggestive step toward her. “Or else…I’ll throw you in the lake.”

She manages a small smile. The sadness has returned to her brown eyes. “On it,” she says, forcefully. I sigh.

Peyton was very thirsty. I could tell she was planning to only take a couple sips and then be difficult, but as soon as the sweet water of Lake Comatista hit her lips, she couldn’t say no. I watched her inhale the water with satisfaction.

I turned toward the middle of the lake. Right on cue, Chaku came into view. He had a huge Sturgeon by the tail. He dropped it into my hands and sat on his haunches, looking up at me expectantly. I ripped off the tail and give it to him. He trots away.

“Impressive.”

Peyton is sitting cross legged on the shore, the edge of her nightgown trailing in the water. Her lips are beginning to have a bit of colour to them. Her hair dripped down her bony back. I sighed. Supper time.

Chaku had already piled sticks and twigs on the shore. I take out my lighter and hold it there until the kindling catches. Peyton comes and stands beside me. Her shoulders sag. One look at her and I know that the effects of lake-water baths can only last so long.

I stand. “Hey.” I hold my arms out to her. She hesitates, so I close the distance between us and wrap my arms around her. Strangers or not, I could tell she was in need of comfort. Like on the estate, she leans into me.

For once I don’t mind touching her. Her bones even more prominent now then they were last night, but it doesn’t bother me so much any more. I was reminded, though, that she was quite literally starving. But I don’t want to end the moment.

“You know what the funny thing is?”

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, Story, Unwritten Hope

L is for Loser

Alone

Staring down from the top of the cliff, the people were almost indistinguishable from the still brown water of the Shangalih. The river looked about twenty feet across from up here, normal until you realized that you couldn’t see bank-to-bank when you were on the ground. That’s how high up we were.

The height fascinated and repulsed me, making my heart beat three times faster than normal.

“If you’re going to do it, you had better do it now, Thayne,” I said, ignoring the voice that told me this was a really, really bad idea. The tiny girl shivered beside me. “Mr. Yering will be back soon.”

Thayne looked down with an expression of terror. Hanging around the tents, the rest of the class watched with rapt attention, anticipation making them edgy. Her vulnerability struck me with anger. I wanted her to jump.

“Come on, Thayne, are you afraid?” I said, stepping toward her. “You a scared little baby-boo? Not so tough as you thought you were, are you?”

She didn’t say anything, her eyes filling with tears as she stared at me. Her silence made me even angrier. Without meaning to, I gave her a shove. She stumbled, landing inches away from the edge. Everyone behind me gasped, then laughed. Thayne was seventeen, a year older than the rest of us because she had been held up a grade, but her size made her easy to push around. Or maybe it was because she was just so insignificant, always fading into the background, sitting somewhere with her nose in a book. Alone. Always alone. and she never, ever talked.

So it was a surprise, a shock even, when she started babbling to me about how it might feel to fly. I had been looking down on the river when suddenly she came up like we were friends or something and started going on. Her voice was too quiet for anyone but me to hear the words, though everyone knew she was talking. And that’s when I got my idea. “Did you hear that, everyone?” I called, spinning around so that my long brown hair drifted over my shoulder. “Thayne says she’s going to jump off!”

There was laughter. “You wish, Luna,” someone said.

“No, it’s true,” I said loudly. “Right, Thayne? She’s finally going to do something worth her…time.” I was going to say ‘miserable life’ but that seemed kind of mean. I fixed her with a stare. Mouth agape, she nodded weakly. She knew the consequences for disagreeing with me. I smiled my best smile.

“So what are you waiting for?” I said now, standing over her cowering frame. “Get up!”

Her face went blank. Wordlessly (of course) she got up, dusted herself off, and balanced with her toes hanging over the edge.

“Jump!” I said. “Jump, jump.”

“Jump! Jump! Jump!” chanted my classmates.

Something moved far off in the trees behind me, something red. I snapped my head around and there I saw her: Mysterious Molly. She wore black, a long, floating crimson scarf around her neck. She watched me with wide, almond-shaped eyes. I was surprised she had even come on this year-end camping trip, considering the fact that she never got out. Nobody liked Mysterious Molly, and nobody disliked her either. Like Thayne, she was very silent, except Thayne was pathetic and Molly was just…mysterious. When she did speak, it was only one word, and that word was always a premonition for whoever she was speaking to.

Molly didn’t say anything to me, and with her steady gaze it was like she had spoken anyway. Why. Why did I hate Thayne so much? Did I actually want her to die?

“Jump, jump, jump!”

Still locked in Molly’s gaze, I barely noticed Thayne look over her shoulder, taking everything in with clinical disinterest, her eyes dilated and glassy-looking. And suddenly, it was like I was her. I had no friends, I was all alone. Here I was about to jump off a fifty-two-foot cliff and people were actually cheering me on. I was poor, my parents had tried multiple times to disown me, nobody loved me; what was the point? And I was alone…we were both so alone.

Thayne bent her knees.

“Jump, jump…”

“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”

Silence.

Thayne wobbled, startled like the rest of us, and fell. Not off the cliff, but backward and right into me, both of us toppling to the ground. Disgusted, I shoved her off. Klutz.

I turned just in time to see Mysterious Molly floating across the campsite to Mr. Yering, who was standing arms crossed, eyes wide and uncertain. She snapped her fingers in his face, then pointed directly at me.

“Luna,” she breathed, her voice like death. It was like her eyes were speaking to his soul, because after a mere second, his expression hardened into one of undeniable outrage.

“Luna!” he said, like he was hypnotized and simply repeating her. I twirled my hair around my fingers, adjusting my pink top with my other hand. I wondered where Shana was. She had said she needed a makeup break and had snuck off into the woods so she wouldn’t get caught, and still hadn’t returned. She would’ve gotten Thayne to jump before the Mysterious Molly got to me and Mr. Yering, and then I wouldn’t be in this mess.

“Yeah?” I said.

He stared at me for a minute, probably thinking that he could be like Molly, but he wasn’t, and after a while he turned and started directing everyone to start breaking up camp. Breathing a sigh of relief, I turned to give Thayne one last glare before pretending to help out, but she was gone. Inexplicably panicked, I rushed to the side of the cliff and looked over. The Shangalih was still, the wind churning the water and making it swirl.

On the school bus ride back to Henderson High, I finally found Shana. Or at least her backside waving in the air as she made out with Tony Kendal, her friend with many, many benefits. Brittany and Selena Welts were trying to get my attention so they could go on with stories of their recent visit to Greece, but my supposed boyfriend Nathan was looking at me with a look that said he was jealous of Tony and Shana right now. He sat on the other side of the bus and two seats up, and kept looking back at me with a lusty and hurt expression that I had made him sit up there. I regarded him with disinterest, not really needing a smooching session right then. Later, definitely, but I had other things on my mind. Where was Thayne Atalda?

I looked, and the Mysterious Molly was still sitting right in front of Brittany and I, silently gazing out the window. Just looking at her still, speculating form sent a chill through me. I ignored it, finally mustering up the courage to lean over the seat and tap her bony shoulder.

“Where is Thayne?” I asked, barely able to speak the words.

Her long, white-blond ponytail shone darkly in the sun. The second she took before answering felt like ten. “Beaten,” she said.

All my fear and respect disintegrated. I glared at her. “Look, Molly, I know you’re supposed to be all mysterious and everything, and everything you say comes true, but I am really not in the mood for more of your one-word riddles that never—”

“Thayne is in a dark place,” Molly interrupted, looking me full in the eye. “She is trying to escape, but she won’t. Not until someone sets her free. And you are that person.”

I shook my head, trying really hard not to laugh out loud. What did she think this was, a Disney movie? “Molly, I’m not kidding. All I asked was a simple question, and apparently you missed it, so here it is again: Where is Thayne?”

Again, she just looked at me. The funny thing about Molly was, no one knew what colour her eyes were. Though she was always staring at people with that speculating gaze, you forgot the colour as soon as you saw it. and you didn’t even notice that you had forgotten until she was gone. “There are many misconceptions about me,” she went on. “They view me as they wish to perceive me, and they perceive me as they wish me to appear. But you, Luna, you see me as you don’t want to see me. You see me for who I am.” And with that, she turned away.

I shivered again, violently. Okay, that was way too much weirdness for one day. I sat back, where Brittany and selena were just talking amongst themselves, having given up on me.

“Hey, Luna!” called Leno from a seat back. “What are you doing talking to Malignant Molly?”

She turned and looked at him, not offended, just thoughtful, her colourless eyes holding him helplessly captive. Everyone made the “Ooooohh!” sound that said he had just got told, and she looked back to the window. He made a face of mock fright and laughed, but you could tell that he really was scared. I hid my smile.

“Hey, Nathan,” I said, butt-scooting until I was in his seat. “You looked like you wanted to tell me something?”

He smiled and reached for me. “Yeah. It had nothing to do with talking, though.”

By the time the bus rolled into the lot at Henderson High, I was ready to crawl back to my seat on my hands and knees just to get away from Nathan. For the first time, his soft kissing and gentle caresses didn’t make me giddy and ready for more. In fact, it was the exact and extreme opposite.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked at one point, holding me at arms length and peering at me intently.

I shook out my hair, trying to act indignant. “What’s the matter with you?” I retorted, sliding my hand up his stomach. Though the move repulsed me.

Slightly unsteady on my feet now, I inserted the keys into my silver Miata. My head pounded. Someone brushed passed me, almost knocking me into my car. Pressing a hand to my forehead, I turned, almost running into Thayne again. this time I really did fall over.

“Thayne?”I whispered, heart in my throat.

Her blue eyes were the colour of silk, but they were ringed with lines. Lines that hadn’t been there six hours ago on the cliff. She sort of smiled at me, except it wasn’t a smile, it was more like she was writing me off, and then she left.

Okay, that was way weird.

But oh, my head. I slumped into my car, slinging my camping bag onto the seat beside me. at least it was finally summer. But all I wanted to do was sleep

Everyday Christian, Passport, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

Turkey

Turkey is at the northeast end of the Mediterranean Sea in southeast Europe and southwest Asia. To the north is the Black Sea and to the west is the Aegean Sea. Its neighbors are Greece and Bulgaria to the west, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania to the north and northwest (through the Black Sea), Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east, and Syria and Iraq to the south. The Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus divide the country. Turkey in Europe comprises an area about equal to the state of Massachusetts. Turkey in Asia is about the size of Texas. Its center is a treeless plateau rimmed by mountains.

Facts from https://www.factmonster.com

Flag Photo from https://www.countryflags.com

Everyday Christian, Passport, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

Mexico

Mexico is bordered by the United States to the north and Belize and Guatemala to the southeast. Mexico is about one-fifth the size of the United States. Baja California in the west is an 800-mile (1,287-km) peninsula that forms the Gulf of California. In the east are the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Campeche, which is formed by Mexico’s other peninsula, the Yucatán. The center of Mexico is a great, high plateau, open to the north, with mountain chains on the east and west and with ocean-front lowlands beyond.

Facts from https://www.factmonster.com

Flag Photo from https://www.countryflags.com

Everyday Christian, Passport, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

Bulgaria

Bulgaria shares borders with Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Greece, and Turkey. Two mountain ranges and two great valleys mark the topography of Bulgaria, a country the size of Tennessee and situated on the Black Sea. The Maritsa is Bulgaria’s principal river, the Danube also flows through the country.

Facts from https://www.factmonster.com

Flag Photo from https://www.countryflags.com