“Love Song to California” by Jen Hickman Inspires Audrey

LoveSongtoCalifornia_JenHickmanEight Percent

At first, the news reported the deaths at the tail end of the “if it bleeds, it leads” segment at the top of the hour. A handful of strange deaths in India. A small village in China. An unknown sickness hurting oil production in Saudi Arabia. All these things happened half a world away. They didn’t affect my life, so I paid them little mind.

By the end of the second month, the news filled with instructions on where to get vaccinations. How to stop spreading the contagion by washing your hands and wearing a mask. In the third month, the pharmaceutical companies gave away free vaccinations. Volunteers roamed homeless shelters and low-income neighborhoods. Sometimes the video clips showed them holding people down against their will and injecting them. God bless America!

They reported high numbers of sick people clogging up emergency rooms. Staff shortages due to illness became a topic of conversation in line at the grocery store. Canned goods and distilled water flew off the shelves. The huge box stores hosted fistfights and gunshots over dried goods. People coughed and sneezed, they left germs on door handles, but by then it was too late. The virus mutated and went airborne. Well, they thought it was a virus. Turns out “they” were wrong, it revealed itself as a prion. No vaccine on earth could stop it.

In the fourth month, the first major worldwide wave of deaths hit. The vaccines did nothing to stop the prion from tearing through the population. It killed the old, the young, and those between. It killed my parents and my three older brothers. It killed their wives, and children. It killed my aunt and cousin. It killed my classmates, my teachers, and my best friend. The bodies piled up at the morgue, but no one was left to bury them.

The talking heads on television called it the worst pandemic since the Spanish Influenza of the early 19th century. They debated if this was the end of humanity. Wave after wave decimated the globe. Even tiny pockets of humans deep in the Amazon didn’t escape unscathed. Globalization, the thing that had brought us together across thousands of miles of ocean and land, had also brought us to our knees.

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“Love Song to California” by Jen Hickman Inspires Julie

LoveSongtoCalifornia_JenHickman

Wer

Drop your human skin in the crease of the lightning-struck tree, and come with me. We’ll return for it at dawn. Let the fur course over your limbs like water, the rigid nails spring from your digits and the nose on your face sprout to house strong teeth and fine whiskers. You are wild now, and you’re mine.

Come, we’ll dance in the last rays of sun while the moon hangs high overhead. We’ll pump our legs and throw our shoulders forward as we gallop through the undergrowth. The tang of foliage is between our toes. You tear through a bed of ferns, and their juices streak your fur.

Push your nose into the dirt, against my side. Fold your tongue over rough bark, the trees that are our fortress. Leave bits of your coat and scent along the border.

We run the perimeter, noting where the deer raise their young, where the eagles nest after the long winter. Your tail swishes against mine, your ears swivel, tuned to forest sound. A half-smile hangs on your lips, your pink tongue falling to the right.

When the circuit’s done, press your nose behind my skull and take the flesh there, shake it gently, then release. I shoot off like a songbird from a hawk, dappling into the shadows of early night.

Follow me. Open your jaw and pant for pleasure, turn the earth beneath your nails and eat up the ground. I’ll be always a step ahead, a flash of fur, a glint of tooth. On the downslope you’ll charge against me so we roll and kick, grunting and yelping like pups. The streaming moonlight reminds us we only have so long.

When I break free, follow me up the slope. Slow your steps in reverence when I reach the top of the embankment where the trees are thin. Long for my throat as I toss my head back and pour my voice out into the night.

The blood purls in your veins and you step up beside me, your jaw opening in release. We are forest keepers, you and I, and our song is the heat of the earth, the cool of the sky, the clamoring life that pervades all.

When the last note has been swallowed by the hills, whine and pace. Nip my ear, and this time show me your throat. Raise your underbelly to the moon and me so you light up white. Graze my face with your paws and thump your tail.

If I go in for the kill, buck me off and fight me. Become the predator of legend, snarl and eyeshine at midnight. If I turn my head away and gaze into the night, kill a hare and lay it at my feet.

If I run, run with me. Follow me. Match me and push me. Shadow me until my breath steams and my muscles tremble. Then make me yours, as you are mine.

***

When the moon abates, put on your human skin.

~*~*~*~*~

A/N: This 500-word fiction is dedicated to the Blood Moon.

For more great art by Jen Hickman, please visit her website (http://umicorms.com/). Illustration © Copyright, Jen Hickman 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Stay tuned for extra content this week from Jen. Return next Monday for Audrey’s answer to this prompt.

“Love Song to California” by Jen Hickman Inspires Anne

LoveSongtoCalifornia_JenHickmanLa Terreur

3 November 1793

Paris, France

The bells are ringing in Saint-Germain-des-Prés across the Seine. I pull my shawl tighter with each peal as I try to keep my slippers clean as I walk as quickly down the Rue Honoré. The pale pink shoes are the only nice thing I have on. It wouldn’t do to wear the matching silk gown. Papa would have noticed that slipping out the back gate. I borrowed the dress and shawl from Claire, but her feet were too big and her boots clunked and slipped when I walked. I glance up at the darkening sky.

A shout from a man on a mud-splattered white horse stops me. I nearly ran into its path. I turn and cling to a lamppost and lean my cheek into it, squeezing my eyes shut tight. Maybe this is a bad idea.

I came down to breakfast this morning to find Mama fretting around the house, her handkerchief pressing into her reddened eyes. I followed her to the blue parlor at the back of our townhouse.

“Mama?” I ask, placing a hand on her arm and turning her toward me. Her eyes dancing everywhere but on me. “Mama? What is wrong?”

Papa slams open the front door, thumps hurriedly down the hall, bursts upon us, and heads straight to the cognac on the sideboard. Two glasses later, he turns to us.

“It must be tonight, Mama.” She nods. Her eyes seem to focus as her pupils expand engulfing the blue into black.

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“Love Song to California” by Jen Hickman Inspires Jen

LoveSongtoCalifornia_JenHickmanQueen of Trees: an Elemental Extra

“Cameron.”

My name startles me out of concentration. The baby summer squash plant I was urging out of the soil explodes under my hands. The spring sun is multiplied tenfold under the greenhouse’s glass and sweat burns my eyes. As part of the nature facet of Elemental power, my connection with plants guarantees a plentiful summer garden as long as the plants don’t explode. Like this one. I toss the it’s shriveled root ball into the compost bin.

“Oh, sorry,” Tess says, brushing leaves off the worktable next to me and hopping up to sit. “I didn’t mean to ruin it.”

“It’s okay,” I smile over at her, “there only a hundred others.” Her booted feet swing above the ground and her hair escapes from the messy knot she’s tied it in. Tiny dark curls wisp at the back of her neck, and I want to tuck them back where they belong.

I wipe my forehead with my sleeve, wondering if I smell as dirty as I feel. She smells like rain and woods, which is like a mixture of the two of us. She’s the most talented Tempest this world has seen and she can mix a storm out of nothing. Impressive is an understatement.

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