Slow, Histories, Worst; a Creative Writing Exercise

Sammy the turtle gripped, slid; gripped, slid. The current path wasn’t too bad. It was just a dried, black dirt that may have made the tummy a little dusty, but was slippery enough to move on. The road about a hundred feet behind had been pebbles, and was slow-going. He had found himself elevating his stomach just a little, as he gripped, skidded; gripped, skidded. Still, though it had taken all his patience, he breathed a little sigh. He was so focused on his own path, that when Betsy the turtle had caught up to him, he was startled. She revolved her head to look at him and smiled. This was her first 5K.

The turtle histories told of 5K’s since the humans had become denser in the area. They ran along these trails and roads, with their loud thudding feet and
hurricane volume breathing. Sammy had heard stories since he was a tot of before the humans had come into the wooded area and cut down all the trees. They had used large, snorting, squealing objects to smooth a road where there was no business being a road. They had put colorful flowers, only here and there, where there was no business being flowers. This had confused the bees, who had had their pick of wildflowers before the humans cut them all down and put grass where grass hadn’t been before. Still, the nectar seemed as good, and they had adapted. Sometimes humans didn’t mess things up.

Sammy rotated his neck forward from Sally. His triangular tongue tip touched his lips, then retreated back into his mouth. His goal was the finish line ahead. His grandfather Bill and father John were waiting at the line. Betsy pulled ahead of him, dragging, dragging. There were maybe half a dozen turtles ahead of them. Each shifted, gripped, sighed, until Sammy, in last place, drug himself to the line. An eruption of cheers broke out, and he instinctively withdrew his head into his shell. He could feel the red heat creeping over his soft body and head when he realized it was only the other turtles. He had come in last! He was given headbutts in his shell and given the good news. He was the worst racing time ever!

Annaleise, Part 3

Annaleise curled up in a fetal position on her hospital bed.  The flourescent light from the overhead light threw shadows everywhere.  Trembling.  Still trembling.  A few hours after lunch, and four after medicine, another one.  They had increased her dose, and it had still happened.  The screaming obscenities, the dark waves washing over here.  It was a wonder she could talk to the nurses, with all that noise, and all the circles rushing at her.

About a half hour before, it had receded a quickly as it had overtaken her earlier.  Could’t sleep.  Couldn’t eat.  Too many people’s eyes.

The mysterious retreat was welcome, but the coldness in her stomach hadn’t abated.

God hates me, I am broken.

An open Bible in front of her.  She had selected a random page.  Somewhere in Peter.  She hadn’t read anything yet.  Worried the pages would cause it again.

God, please help, please help, please…

She closed her eyes.  Tired.  A random thought in her head,

I should look at what Sam dropped off.

Her husband had tried to visit earlier, but a conversation had been impossible.  Opening her eyes, she saw the gift bag on the night stand next to her.  She reached for it, sitting up and pretzel crossing her legs.  She removed the tissue paper on top, and pulled the first item out.  Pink, fleece pajamas.  The second item was a book.  She pulled it out and examined the cover. Victory Over the Darkness.   It was actually one she had read before, years back, but had not remembered much about.  She set it on the bed, and went into the bathroom to change into her pajamas.  Emerging from the bathroom, she padded to the bed, the still opened Bible on the bed, the book near it.

She opened the book to the first page.  The first sentence was “Who are you?”

A strange, subtle stirring moved in her heart.  Slowly at first, she read down the first page. The reading picked up speed as she read further and further through.  She was startled when the first chapter became chapter two.  Digesting the words came slower than reading them.

I am not….

Her eyes fell on the Bible she had left there, and the lines on the page seemed to be in bold, and she felt them cut through to her heart,

“But you are a chosen people, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV version)

I am…God’s.  He. Chose. Me.

It. Is. Grace.

Still, I am broken, my mind is broken…

A new, clear thought rose, almost painful in it’s suddeness.

I am not…

my sickness.

I have sickness….

it is not who I am.

She wasn’t sure how long she would feel it, but a soft peace, a balm over her raw mind and heart, and a lifting of tenacious darkness inside.

Everything would not be perfect, but she was Jesus’.

For now that was enough.

Part 2, Annaleise

Pale sunlight fell on and filtered through gritty eyelids.  The pounding headache made itself known abruptly, and the feeling of a membrane having been stripped from her brain.  Everything was terrible, but quiet.

Quiet.  The  tsunami thoughts were much slower, fainter.

“Thank you, God.”  She whispered.  It was done.  She was awake, alive, and her mind hadn’t drowned.  The liquid, warm gratitude was quickly replaced by cold fear.  It would come again.  It always did.  “Please, God, no.  Please.”  the whisper was quiet in the white, basic room.  The mid-morning sunlight softened the starkness of all the white.  White sheet, white blanket, white gel-like pillow.

I should go back to sleep.  Then I won’t be awake if it happens again, with the dark cloud, and her far away self.  I could lose control, I could do something bad.  Need to sleep.

She tried to get her eyes to obey, but cold alertness persisted.  Finally, throwing off her half-folded pillow, she threw her legs to the side.  There was no memory of the nurse coming in for her early morning vitals.  Maybe they had left her alone?  For hours into the night, she had struggled.  They must have figured she needed sleep.

Rising, she shoved her feet into oversized, soft slippers, and did the morning shower and routine.  Her eyes were just eyes in the mirror, not the floating circles.  There were dry flakes around her nose and on her forehead from the hospital soap.  When she came in, they had even taken her facewash, because it held some remote risk of a suicide attempt.


The breakfast room had only one lone patient, a thin, medium height black man named Slate.  Most of his tray looked devoured, but he was sipping grits.

“Coming out to see us,”  His teeth were perfect as he smiled.  “First group going to start soon.   Might want to hurry and eat.”  He nodded toward a tray across the table from him.

Annaleise slid into the chair across from him.

“Don’t worry.”  He smiled again. “Today is gonna be a good day.  The Lord is here, and everything we need is taken care of.”  He winked.  “Don’t forget that.  His grace is sufficient.”

A nurse had appeared in the entrance to the breakfast room.

“Group time.”  The voice exiting her was sweet and pleasant, but the face was expressionless.  “Oh, you can finish first, sweetie”, she said as Annaleise started to put the cover on her plate, “Come in when you are done”.

Slate rose, letting a hearty whistle start.  He took his tray to the stainless steel meal holder, then disappeared around the corner.

A flicker of a smile turned up the corners of her mouth as the whistle persisted.  He seemed so normal.  He hadn’t really volunteered much in groups and goals what was wrong with him.  It was completely optional.  So much faith.

The smile fell abruptly.

“God, are you still with me?  The stuff that happens to me seems so demonic, and your Spirit can’t dwell with demons.  Are you here?  Am I your child?”

There was a quiet emptiness that started to blossom in her.  She was defective, her brain was useless.  She was worth nothing to God, and she couldn’t really be God’s child.  She was nothing but an OCD brain.  It was who she was, and she would never be useful.  Her wiring would destroy her crediblilty.  Crazy, a bunch of frayed wires…



Annaleise, Part 1

Anneliese Kimberly Ryan wasn’t sure if she was awake or asleep.   A vague sense of her brain suctioning in reality, distorting stark white walls, scuffed checked floors, a white, checkered ceiling.  It was coming at her.  Everyone’s eyes were too circled.  The circles stood out, and if she closed her eyes, they were burned into her minds eye.  So many circles in everything!  Her pale blue eyes sought out, and found, circles in lights, lines and curves and circles.  Everything had them!

Echoing, harsh thoughts that came shouted obscenities, after images of people around her, eyeless.  Some of the nurses wore animal print scrubs, others had cats.

“Anneliese.  Anneliese.”  a hand on her shoulder.

Had to resist the thoughts, but will was trampled, lifeless.  So cold in her belly.

“Take this,”  the faint voice, and she saw a pill.  She plopped it in her mouth.  Now, she could sleep.  Water would be nice.  Another storm of obscenities toppled anything upright in her mind.  “Keep your tongue in your mouth.  Stop.  Now, lay down. ”

Yes, she would lay down.  Needed to sleep, to get away from the thoughts.  Needed to exert some of her own voice, and mouth it, so she would know it was hers.  4,8,12,16, 20, 24, 28….

4’s weren’t round, the-


Part 2, Sarah

“You didn’t think. ”  Her voice was steadily getting louder. She choked the forceful tone back, swallowed, then abruptly rose and made a beeline for the bathroom down the hall. She wrestled with the anger force that tried to bubble up in her, and managed to gently close and lock the door.  The tiny bathroom had maybe 10 square feet to it, taken mostly up by a free-standing, lime-scaled sink, a toilet in an odd shade of green, and a full-size bathtub in the same earthy green.  With everything being older, it never looked clean.  Their fixer upper.  She slowly lowered herself onto the toilet lid, hot tears leaking out.  Maybe I should do the movie thing of go over the sink and splash my face with water, she thought.  Instead, she pushed the heels of her hands into her eyelids.

Sarah allowed herself to weep for a bit, then it tapered off.  Finally, she just stayed in the same position, and a raw dryness inside throbbed.  They had been working so hard.

“Lord, we are supposed to be a team.  Why wouldn’t he ask me?  I know I am his helpmate, but don’t you want us debt free?  Don’t you want us to each put the other first?” She rubbed the back of her hand over her cheeks, her nose, ran fingers through her tangled hair.  So tired.  Rising, she exited the bathroom.  She stopped at the entrance to the living room.  Her husband had cleared everything off, and the scent of candle smoke hung in the air.

“I am going to turn in.  I have to go to work early.”  She could hear the hoarseness in her voice.  His back was to her in the wood-paneled kitchen, at the small sink.  She heard the start and stop of the water and clanking of dishes, and he said something quietly, that she didn’t catch.  Dully, she turned around and went into their room.  This room had only the absolute essentials of a closet, dresser, and bed in it.  She quickly undressed and collapsed into the bed, pulling the comforter up to her nose.


Next thing she knew, the alarm’s urgent call blared.  A huge sigh and yawn escaped her, and she started to pull the covers up higher, then thought better of it and forced herself to stand.  Just had to get past that initial wall of drowsiness by moving, and she would be ok. Sarah glanced back and saw her husband sleeping, his back to her.

In the shower, she barely moved at first, while the needles of water hit her.  On impulse, she caught some of the shower water in her mouth, swished, then spit it out.  A quick head-to-toe soaping and shampooing up, rinse, and she was done.  She didn’t want to get caught in the cold water.

Dressed in record time, she went in front of the mirror to apply her little bit of makeup that made her look less tired.  Lord, grant me the grace to do what needs to be done today.  Thank you for a new day.  Please help me act as I should to my husband, and give me the wisdom to know what’s right.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.  As she finished her quick prayer, there was a tentative knock at the door.

Lord, grant me the grace to do what needs to be done today.  Thank you for a new day.  Please help me act as I should to my husband, and give me the wisdom to know what’s right.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.  As she finished her quick prayer, there was a tentative knock at the door.

As she finished her quick prayer, there was a tentative knock at the door.

“Come in.”  She reached for her deodorant.

The door opened slowly, with a faint squeak.  Her husband had gray rings under his eyes, a five-o-clock shadow in a pale ginger, and glassy green eyes.  She could feel her hardened heart soften at his appearance.

“I’ve been praying all night,” he croaked, “and have decided to leave up to you if I go to the interview.  I didn’t mean to leave you out of the decision.  I love you, and am so sorry-”

She turned and wrapped her arms around him, her face pressed to his chest.

“I’m sorry I flew off the handle.  You can do this if you really are sure it’s in God’s will.  I will support it, as long as you are sure.  I love you.  I am worried about bills, but I know Jesus promised if we put Him first, he would take care of us.”

He gently embraced her in return, his voice lighter.  ” I will be really careful and really sure. Are you sure it’s fine with you, though?”  He pulled her back to study her eyes as she listened.

She smiled, and it was a real smile.

“I love you, and I am with you on this.”

As she headed out the door that morning, she started whistling.




Sarah Timmons had had a terrible day.  Her tall, lanky frame slouched.  Her blue eyes twitched.  Stress had quirked the corner of her lips.  Even her light brown hair let her down, with an impression from her taco bell visor over the crown of the head. Out of control curls from the bun she had worn all day streamed off the rest of the length.

“Tired,” she muttered, slamming the driver side door to her 1980 Ford Pinto.

Her heart lifted a little when she saw her husband, Chads, ’85 Chevy truck on the curb in front of the house.  The wrinkles on her forehead smoothed out,  and her unconscious tooth-grinding stopped momentarily.  In spite of her mental fog, the spicy gumbo smell from the house snapped her to attention, her stomach growling loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

“Payday,”  she told herself.   If they were indulging in something more expensive, like shrimp, it normally meant they actually had money.  She had forgotten it was the beginning of the month.  That meant she would be paid in a week, and they could knock out bills.

“Let’s see… Electric, Phone, student loans…” she trailed off.  They kept their bills to a minimum, so there was no cable or other extras to worry about. In spite of the dull, exhausting hours they both worked at their minimum wage jobs, their marriage was wonderful.  Sarah enjoyed the transparency, and genuine like and love toward each other.  Not having money actually seemed to add to the romantic atmosphere.  They worked, went to a .99 theater occasionally, and ate a lot of Ramen Noodles.

Sarah attempted to turn the handle, but the knob wouldn’t turn.  She pulled her keys out of her khakis to attempt to unlock it but heard Chad’s voice.

“Don’t unlock it!  Give me a second.”

Puzzled, she complied.

After a few minutes, the door lock ground a little, then the door swung open.

The sight of the dim, candle-lit living room greeted Sarah, as well as the clear smell of gumbo.  Chad had filled two bowls, placed them on two TV trays pushed together with a pillowcase and a single, blue, lit candle.

Sarah smiled.

“Is some of it for me?”

He laughed.

“Of course.”  He scratched at his short red hair, green eyes looking clear and happy.

“Smells awesome.” She smiled.

“Yup.  Something else, too.”


“Let’s sit down and eat a little, then I have something to tell you.”

“Ok, sure.”

Sarah plopped onto the faded gold couch and untucked her shirt.  She rotated her ankles, then pried off her faded running shoes.  After a quick blessing, they both started eating with zeal.

Sarah only had a bite or two left, when Chad drew a deep breath.

“Like I was saying, I had something to tell you.”

He never took his eyes off hers.  She didn’t react, so he went on,

“I’ve been offered a job, and I took it.”  The words tripped over each other as he explained.

“You know Tweetsie railroad? Well, they need a special effects artist for their costumes.  One of my friends hooked me up, and they want to interview me next week. I gave my two weeks notice at Aldi today.”

He sat back as her face froze.

“Well, what do you think?”

She searched for the words, and finally plunged in;

“Chad, you never asked me about this.  I had no idea this was coming.  You can’t just give notice without another job lined up.  We need both of our incomes if we are going to stay debt free.  Why didn’t we discuss this?  It’s ‘we’, right? ”

“The thing is,”  he answered, looking puzzled at her reaction, “He texted me today.  I had to make a snap decision, and you were at work.  I couldn’t call you for that.  You are emergency calls only, remember?  I would have called your cell, but you turn it off when you are there. ”

“I could have had some notice.  Could you not wait until I got home today to talk about this?”

“He said he needed a decision now.  I thought you would be happy.”

“I mean, I know this is something you wanted.  Right now, we have to make sacrifices, though, to get where we want to go.  Remember our goals?  Is it at least as much money as you normally make?  We have everything planned for to the penny.  Will this throw us off?”

“I didn’t think of that.” he admitted.

” You didn’t think. “She could feel the heat creeping up from her collarbone to the top  of her skull.

(Part 1, part  2  coming)





“I just like comfort food. All anyone really wants from food is to be full. It’s like your reward,” I could feel my face flushing, my speech quickening, as the grinning brunette waiter left.

“You would be surprised how filling fiber is,” Jeannette stated, with her healthy, perfect smile. “You can add fats like avocado and stuff if you are really hungry to feel satisfied, too.”

“I mean, scientists have determined we are omnivores with our teeth anyway, haven’t they?”

Surprise flickered in her pale eyes. “Oh, I’m not vegan. I just eat my meat as more of a condiment. A lot of cancers are linked to too much meat.”

I flicked my straw back and forth between my two pointer fingers. It made me feel a little more virtuous that I had gotten water with lemon.

More quickly than we expected, our food arrived. The waiter handed me a huge serving plate of my macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green bean casserole.

Seeing Jeannette’s full plate of salad, I had to admit it looked better than I thought it would. The vegetal work of art had lettuces with all kinds of colors, a sparse sprinkling of sunflower seeds, perfectly arranged tomatoes and cucumbers, and green olives and pickles. Two small ice cream scoops of avocado proudly topped everything off. As she mixed together her red wine vinegar and a little olive oil, my mouth watered a little as she sparingly sprinkled it over everything.

Still, mashed potatoes and gravy were mashed potatoes and gravy, and I felt no regret until thirty minutes later, when I suddenly felt sluggish and full of bricks.

Part 2, short story

After Mom’s death, life became a tunnel experience.  I could only see what was right in front of me.  Unless I narrowed my focus consciously, reality had a strange shadow over my line of vision.  I went to the eye doctor, thinking I had a cataract, but everything was normal.  I think my mind was trying to spare me the full force of pain that, crouching in the darkness of my peripheral vision, waited to pounce.

I watched my automated self get up to the alarm, get ready, eat my cardboard spinach and eggs, work, go home, sleep.  Food was tasteless.  Dreamless sleep left no sense of peace or rest.

One night, with the clear fall sky dropping it’s curtain of vivid black, cold stars, I stopped at a red stoplight.  For some reason, I looked to the right. My eyes fell on the small, brick “Hudson Public Library”.  Like a drop of cool water on my dull eyes, I felt a small ripple, and sensed a warmth in the golden glow of the windows of that building.  Without realizing it, I had hit the turn signal right.   When the light turned green, I turned onto the dead end street, then left into the parking lot.  My eyes fell on the digital clock on my dashboard.  8:53.  Closed in seven minutes.  I turned off the ignition and unclicked my seatbelt, staring at the clock.   8:54.

I couldn’t tell you when I decided to exit the car, but at some point, that’s what I did.  It was just me, a red Ferrari, and a blue Dunebuggy.  Inside the library, because of the flourescent lights I had to squint at first.  In spite of my last minute entrance, I received a quiet smile from the librarian, currently at the circulation desk.

I realized I was still holding my keys, and put them in my pocket.  Three computers were across the room, and I selected the first one.  I typed in “Cancer”.  1 of 278 possibilities.  Instead of scrolling, I noted the first books’ call number, and wandered over to the nonfiction section.  Even with the small library, there were so many books.  I grabbed one at random, and started to dig through my wallet for the library card I was sure I had signed up for at some point.  A relief rose up as I discovered it.

I checked it out, got in my car, and drove home.  Instead of falling immediately into my strange void of sleep, I lay on the couch, still in my jacket, and started reading.  I finished the entire book in several hours.  I don’t remember how, but I fell asleep right right after.  I didn’t move from that position until I woke up before my alarm at 5:15 a.m.

After that time, I would go to the library every night.  The old book smell, dusty and warm, comforted me on some level.  I half expected my skin to start getting the parched, sallow color of the books I read.  So much information, but so little practical help.  You could maybe change your lifestyle, but there wasn’t a guarantee;  you could avoid smoking, and end up with a genetic tendency to lung cancer anyway.  A dogged, determined mania would swing to a numbing despair as I progressed in my research.

Part 1

The last year of Mom’s life, in spite of aggressive treatment, the cancer wove its way up from her lungs to her throat.

Earlier on in treatment, my ears cupped her words like my fingers cupped the fragrant baby blue coffee cup I sipped from.  Initially, I would gush  out things, information from Zoey’s latest tea party to the creative writing course i was enrolled in.  As time went on, I asked her what Daddy’s and her song had been in college, how she had felt when I had a positive pregnancy test only six weeks after my honeymoon, what her iced pumpkin cookie recipe entailed.  The floodgates of speech were easily opened when she was presented with even a simple question.  Her faded blue eyes would mist over any time she would recall something about my dad.

One new aspect to her personality was the hats she  wore.  Even before her hair started to fall out, she took some money from savings, and got herself several hats.  Now, before getting sick, she never picked up the habit of wearing hats like dad always did, or my sister with her Fedoras, or me with my feminine hats with styles form the 40’s and 50’s.  She got a beautiful straw sun hat that she wore all year long when it was bright outside.  It ended up turning her already pale skin into the milky, ivory of old china.  To look less pale, she would often tap her lips with a deep rose lip gloss, and slick on some blush in a similar color.  She had given up eye makeup by the time her lashes fell out.

In spite of the smile she continued to beam, our family could see the shake in her hand, and the sweat that would break out at even a leisurely stroll.  Sometimes, grief would rise up in me, and I would exit to the bathroom, trying to dam up the waterfall threatening to come out.

When she got tired, she would sit on our beige vinyl chairs and run her toes back and forth in the baby pool  I had left there when my daughter was four.



My friend and I didn’t talk much as we slammed  the sedan’s doors.  Hands in pockets, and hunching into our fleece jackets, we strode quickly to the Starbucks door.  I opened it first, then continued to hold it as a blonde, disheveled young woman of about 25 entered.  There was a barely visible infant strapped to her front, an older toddler with red, chapped cheeks and black, serious eyes in a backpack.  She was trying to lead a preschooler in by the hand. The preschooler, realizing there were a lot of people in here, did a rag doll.

“My hand!  You’re hurting it!” cried out the towhead with dark eyes.

A stab of sympathy turned my heart over in my chest.

“You can go ahead if you need to,” I invited.

“Thank you,”  she said softly.

That’s when I noticed, in spite of a colorless complexion with no makeup and pale, blue eyes, there was a strange glow and softness to the woman.  Her voice was low, gracious, as she corrected her wayward child;  with just enough steel behind it that the child stood erect.

The woman’s  underweight frame was carried with shoulders squared, neck lifted to it’s full swan length.  Her mussed, hastily  swept up hair had a few occasional ringlets that rebelled, softening her square jaw.   The most arresting and ELEGANT to me, though, was the serene eyes.  She seemed to be in a bubble of peace that settled my own heart.  It was completely contradictory to the chaotic breakfast hour in the coffee shop.

After we had paid and received our hot chocolates, I glanced back one last time.  I didn’t see the woman as I left, but the image of her eyes gave me bizarre dreams that night.