On nasty surprises.

Today was the Staff Orientation at the high school for the entire district and man, it was a long day.  When I walked out of my classroom at 5:30PM, the lights in the hallway were literally off.  I practically shut the place down.  I’m proud of all that I got done today, but it was really unnecessary to be there so late.  I wasted some time lollygagging with colleagues, but I managed to work some good karma, helping others shuffle textbooks in and out of their rooms and find their portfolios.

I came home and ran.  It felt good; it helped me to work out some of my stress and I had forgotten how good it felt to be sore, to have blisters and to have tangible evidence that you are making a difference.  I weigh in on September 16th.  The goal is at least five pounds lost.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news.

I heard back from my editor.  My gallery pages are scheduled to be completed this week.  I am so excited!

I’m trying to keep this short and sweet because tomorrow is the first day of school and while I feel prepared, I am confident it will be a restless night.

PROMPT: While digging in a cereal box for the toy surprise, a child makes a grizzly discovery.

PIECE: Mikey had his father teach him how to set the alarm on his wristwatch the night before.  Thankfully, Dad didn’t ask too many questions or wonder at Mikey’s sudden interest in the somewhat more complicated features of his watch.  Mikey set his alarm for 6:00AM, a whole hour before he had to be up and getting ready for school.  He figured that sixty minutes would be more than enough time to slink out of bed, to pad noiselessly in bare feet down the hallway and down the stairs, to creep into the kitchen, to hunch before a low-mounted cabinet and open it slowly so the joint didn’t creak too loudly, to retrieve the new cereal box and the surprise toy within.

He had seen Mom removed the box of cereal from one of the yellow, plastic shopping bags after returning home from the grocery store.  He had been irritated by the way she handled it so carelessly, just tossing it into the cabinet, not seeming to care if it tilted and fell against the others.  Did Mom not know about the prize inside or the intense satisfaction of being the first to find said prize?  Immediately, his eyes flicked to his older brother, Jimmy.  Jimmy was currently elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos and Mikey didn’t think he’d seen the cereal box, but he couldn’t be sure.  Jimmy was sneaky.  Jimmy thought that because he was older, everything was his.  Those two inclinations proved to make life difficult for Mikey.  But this time, just this one time, he would be hailed the victor.

The alarm clocked beeped at a truly annoying high pitch three times before Mikey slammed down on a small, metal button on the side of the clock face.  His eyes shot to Jimmy, who seemed to be asleep.  Was he faking?  Mikey hypothesized that if Jimmy were feigning slumber, then Jimmy would move when Mikey moved.  As soon as Mikey’s feet hit the floor and the board creaked beneath his weight, Jimmy would sit up and demand to know what he was doing.  Then again, Jimmy might really be fast asleep and besides, Mikey hadn’t woken up so early for nothing.

He pulled the covers back very, very slowly – inch by inch – so as not to make a sound and so he was able to make his movements as slow as possible.  After what seemed like an eternity, Mikey was free of the burdensome covers.  Keeping his movements lethargic, he sat up in bed like a zombie from one of the movies he wasn’t allowed to watch but that Jimmy could.  Jimmy would tell him all about the gruesome, violent parts and then tease Mikey when he asked for the light to be left on.  He didn’t need light now – it would definitely wake Jimmy up.  Barely breathing, Mikey twisted his body around, swinging his legs softly against the sheets.  Though the mattress creaked as he slid for his feet to touch the floor, Jimmy remained motionless.  Mikey said a little prayer and tiptoed across the room, nimbly avoiding the toy cars and playing cards left out from a few nights before.  The moonlight that stole in through the window illuminated the landscape just enough for Mikey to make out dangerous shadows.

Once he was out of the bedroom and in the hallway, he could breathe easier.  Mikey kept an even pace – to break into a run would be foolish and loud – and took the stairs one at a time, placing his weight as evenly as possible.  He was proud for the amount of physical restraint he was displaying, but it completely dissipated when he reached the landing.  Jubilation filling his veins, Mikey tore through an archway to his left and slid to a seat before the cabinet, his pajama bottoms navigating easily across the linoleum floor.  He wrenched the cabinet open, retrieved the cereal box, and slid a slightly shaking finger beneath the cardboard flap.  Eagerly, he slid his finger across the edge of the box – a paper cut be damned – and crudely ripped at the other flap.  He never thought he’d be so thankful for cheap glue.

Mikey lifted the plastic bag containing the sugar-coated corn flakes and struggled for a moment or two before the thicker plastic gave way and ripped satisfactorily.  His fingers were sweaty and had trouble gripping the edge but once they did – boy; that was all she wrote.  Mikey let the plastic bag fall back into the box and he plunged his innocent, little fist inside, feeling around for the prize.  His fingers brushed against something that was firmer than corn flakes, and he seized it.  He brought it triumphantly out from the box, a few corn flakes falling to the floor.

It was a human toe, bloodied around the end from which it was removed from the body it, until recently, belonged to.

Mikey screamed and screamed and screamed.

On falling mattresses.

I have been so out of it lately. Today, I tried to sleep in the faculty workroom at school. I was sitting where the other substitutes usually eat their lunches, my oversized purse placed strategically in front of me so that I was hidden from view. I had the latest edition of “Glimmer Train open in front of me, but everyone would know I was not really reading because my cheek was laying upon the page, and my mouth was wide open. Oh, and my eyes were closed. To be fair, I didn’t actually fall asleep, but I was able to find that incredibly blissful zone that comes just before sleep, when one’s mind is actually empty and one is just drifting.

When I came home, I did sleep. I did not exercise, I did not count my calories, I didn’t really clean my room and I just did nothing. I’m feeling down on myself because I’m sliding back into lazy, self-destructive habits and I’m worried I can’t stop, that my life will be successive series of starting and stopping, of trying and failing.

I feel that it is important to share my emotion and mindset with you so that when you read the pieces, you can put them in some kind of context (or if they completely suck and lack talent, I can refer you to the crappy day I had. Really, I’m just covering my ass – pardon my French).

THE PROMPT: “Falling Mattresses”

            They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses.

            Sam reread the line, moving his lips soundlessly over the words. He clicked his pen and sat it down beside the yellow legal pad. Every other line was blank, besides the first, and had been blank for hours. Surrounding the pad were crumpled up sheets of yellow paper, discarded as trash and bad ideas, scattered amid empty cans of diet Coke. Aggravated, Sam sighed loudly and raked his face with his palms. No words seemed right, no hook was interesting enough and he was stuck.

            Sam heard the door open and close from behind him, and turned his head to see his sister walking inside. She was smiling, and held a tray of food in her hands. “Here you are,” she said. “Dinner’s been ready for a while. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

            “I didn’t want to be disturbed,” Sam grumbled, turning back around.

            “You still need to eat,” his sister argued, rolling her eyes. His artistic temper tantrums made her want to scream. “It’s your favorite; spaghetti and meatballs.” She used the ends of the tray to clear the table of its paper litter, and set it before her brother, smack dab on top of the pad he had been writing on, or at least trying to. She then decided to pick up the empty cans, crushing them to make more room in her hands. The noise was irritating, as was her presence, and as was Sam’s writer block. He collapsed back against the couch and grunted. His sister straightened up and popped a hip, so that her poise was one of attitude. “What’s wrong?”

            “I can’t come up with anything.”

            “Oh,” she said. She smiled and sat beside her brother, momentarily forgetting the crumpled aluminum in her hands. “Maybe I can help. What do you have so far?”

            Sam raised an eyebrow. “Dude, I have been locked in here for days, trying to come up with a beautiful and meaningful song that will have a lasting effect not only on this generation, but on those that follow. I doubt you can help me finish these lyrics in a couple of minutes.”

            “At least let me try,” she said. “You never know, Sam. Something I say could trigger an explosion of creativity.”

            He studied her for a moment, and discovered how strange it was to be viewing what was essentially the female version of himself. Ever since they were little, everyone had commented on how much they not only looked alike, but acted alike. Growing up, they had adopted each other’s mannerisms, like how when they were nervous, they would pull on their eardrums so the blood would pool and pound there, rather than their panicked brains. They both chewed their nails, and bit their bottom lips when they were deep in thought but knew someone was looking. The two were close – they had always been close, but after Dad had died and they had both moved back home to help take care of Mom in her increasingly fragile mental state, they became friends, honest and genuine friends. Smiling softly, Sam shrugged. “What the hell; give it a shot.”

            “Okay – what do you have so far?”

            Sam lifted the tray of food so he could slide the legal pad from underneath it. Suddenly nervous, he licked his dry lips. As close as they were, he had never allowed his sister to read any of his work. He couldn’t exactly say what it was he was afraid of, because she would never ever say anything bad about it, but his stomach did squirm uneasily when he saw eye the writing. “All I have is the opening line: ‘They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses.”

            It was silent for quite a few moments. Finally, she said, “I don’t get it.”

            “What do you mean?”

            She shrugged and said, “I don’t know where you want to go with this.”

            Sam laughed, running his palm across the back of his neck. “That is the problem I’ve been having.”

            “Then just change the line.”

            Sam was scandalized. “No way, I can’t change the line! This is a very intriguing image, and I need to work with it.”

            His sister held her hands up in front of her as if in self-defense. “Okay, sorry! I didn’t know you were married to the falling mattresses.” She did her best to stifle a laugh at her older brother’s expense. She reread the line soundlessly, just as Sam had, and then asked, “Why are the mattresses falling?”

            “You tell me.”

            Her eyes widened. “This is hard.”

            “You’re telling me.”

            There were another few moments of silence. “Well,” she said, “good luck with all that.” She rose to her feet, cradling the empty cans in her arms. “Make sure you eat before it gets cold.”

            “Thanks for all the help,” Sam said, shaking his head slowly.

            “Anytime,” she smiled, shutting the door behind her.

            He imagined a mattress falling from the sky and crushing his sister beneath its weight, her cheap and flimsy umbrella collapsing. He laughed and then froze.

            There was the idea; the rest of the song.