Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Fox, Wolves, Some Caribou, Buffalo, Moose and a Badger Crossing. My adventures in the Wilderness that is the AlCan Highway

Most of you know (from the previous post) that my mom moved her from AK. As part of the fabulous journey, the good daughter, err, great daughter I am, I flew all the way up to AK (in a middle seat on a full flight with a delayed layover - did I mention what a wonderful daughter I am?) to drive with my mom down the AlCan HWY.

It started off fine. iPod plugged in? Check. Dog & cat? Check. Snacks? Check. GPS, lovingly named Ruby? Check. Maps in case Ruby doesn't work/dies, etc? Check. Beautiful Alaska landscape (especially leaving)? Check.

Here is a picture taken from (all taken with my phone from the car) of the insert long consonant heavy name here pass. It was lovely.

Around this time (and it was curvy) the dog seemed fine. I took this picture, turned back to take a picture of him (he's a little Havanese named Stewie) to find him covered in yellow vomit.

But not to worry! Mom saved the day with lemony scented wet wipes.

On we went. Further through the dips and valleys and glacier fields.

To snow! Now look carefully but we are actually NOT in the mountains here. Yep. No snow in the mountain curves, but get down to the valley floor and it's all over the road.

Also, if you look even closer, it's ONLY on the road.

(shakes head)

Sometimes things just don't make sense in AK (but more on that later).

Luckily, mom's got 4-wheel drive and we headed (safely) straight for that next mountain in the distance.

Hmmm. That snow is getting mighty thick here and Mom's knuckles are about the same color as it. Come on 4-Wheel drive.

Okay. Lots of snow AND a downhill road. Did I mention that to the left it goes straight down?

Okay, this has to be one of the dumbest things I've seen. Now, I don't know why it bothered me so much, but it did. These two mountains are flanking the highway. They are almost exactly the same elevation and equal distance from the road. (pay no attention to the one on the right looking farther away. It was the angle I took the picture at (ya know, iPhone in car isn't the greatest) Anyway, why does one have snow and the other not? Hmm? Weird, huh? Anyway, let me just say there's a story brewing in these mountains.

And this is documentation of the scariest part of our trip. You can't quite see it here, but underneath all that fat snow is black, black, black ice. And in case you can't tell, that's a steep incline to boot.

12 miles in second gear and a set of headlights behind us that disappeared (no there were no driveways it's full on wilderness out there) later and we arrived at a fancy little berg called Haines Junction. Really, it was a one-pump gas station, a decent hotel and a run down you'll probably find Norman standing in the shower type motel.

Now, thanks to the awesome roads conditions this far, it took us 14 hours instead of the anticipated 12 to get there. Mom goes in to the nice hotel, asks for a room and the guys says "We've got one no-pet room left." My mom isn't the greatest of liars. Which overall is a fab trait. But when you've been on the road for as long as we had, seen disappearing lights and a slippery hill of black ice, I wish she were. She didn't say anything but the guy could read her face and said, "Got a pet, a?" (how do they spell that Canadian "A"??) Of course she told the truth, and that was that. He sent us on our way. He said we could check the flea-bag motel up the road. (The Bates one - yeah, no).

This ends the picture section of the blog. Basically, Mom had enough driving and was about ready to pass out. We both had to use the little girls' but of course there was nothing in the "junction" so we got gas (it was a self serve thingy no bathrooms) and drove up the road (which was thankfully snow/iceless)

We pulled over, a dark 10 miles in either direction on a straight stretch and used the loo. In hindsight, Mom was smart. She just dropped trou directly behind the car. But being Miss Modesty, I hiked down the incline to the left, ya know, near the trees. Why? Why would I do that? Well, it was late and I can probably blame delerium. Anyway, I took over driving from here on (hence no more pictures... well, one more but that's later). So about a half-mile down the road, a wolf crosses in front of us. And where there's one... needless to say, I was a little disturbed by how close my bathroom excursion was to a pack of wolves! I could have been eaten!

The distance between Haines Junction and the next town, Whitehorse, is about two hours or a little over 100 miles. Despite some douche bag blinding me by refusing to turn his brights down and very large Caribou legs flashing in front of my headlights (because the legs were all I could see with his brights in my eyes) we made it and found ourselves safely tucked away in a hotel.

I wish I'd had my phone with me to take a picture of this store we stopped at somewhere around the Yukon Territory and BC border. It was pretty nice inside (a lot of places you go in and come out smelling like some horrible combo of grease, stale cigarettes and old lady perfume). In the bathroom, there was a sign above the sink that said, "Boil water before drinking." Okay, I'm cool with boiling water before drinking. But WHO drinks from public bathroom sinks? Maybe I don't want to know who. If you're one of them, don't tell me because I will be sad to find out.

The twelve and thirteen hour days blurred together. Pretty countryside that goes on for so long you actually stop caring and believe it to be the most boring thing you've seen in your life, a bear, moose, some buffalo (Oh! I have a picture of that!) and a badger crossing.

I know it looks like I'm taking the picture from the dirver's seat. But I'm not. I swear. Mom took this one. Animals in the road are one of the main reasons the AlCan is one of the scariest places to drive. They are big, fast, and come out of nowhere. (Well these didn't, but ya know what I'm sayin')

We were so happy to get into civilization once we got past the last mountain range near the border. We got through customs, drove through a little country town, happy to have mile signs again and was a whole two miles from I-5 (which on the west coast is THE freeway going from the bottom of CA to the top of WA), when this happened:

Yep, that'd be Mom's car all broken down. Who knew that an alternator can go out WHILE you're driving? I sure as heck didn't. This was a busy road too. I was lucky to pull off when I did (just before the car died).

We got to wait an hour for the tow, then get to the mechancis (who were awesome) before we could finish our trip. We were thrilled it was something that could be fixed so easily, but who wants that at the end of the trip? Although, at least it didn't happen on one of those middle-of-nowhere places in Canada. So bright side, right?

We got home late evening on the fourth day of our journey. All intact, and hardly worse for the wear, save for some serious exhaustion.

This is my second trip through the AlCan with my Mom, and she better not decide to go back because I'm not doing it again. (Okay, who am I kidding, like I'd let her go alone.)

I'm glad to be back to the land of the living (aka civilization) and back to my house, pets and husband.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How would you like your change? Slow and steady, please.

Doesn't fall seem like a good time of year for change? It's my favorite season and it seems way better than New Year's. I mean, everything is dormant and cold. Okay, spring is the obvious choice for change, I know. But fall is just as good, I swear.

Then again, when change hits and it's unexpected, it is hard to process no matter the time of year. Of course, I'm talking about change affecting us, rather than the reverse of us affecting change.  It's much better when we can choose the change, right? Don't worry though folks, I'm not going to wax philosophic today. I know no one wants to read the chicken/egg loop for an entire post. I'm just saying I prefer my change slow and steady instead of a "surprise!" moment.  Planned change, yeah, that's the ticket.

In the last couple months there have been some major changes in my life, or rather, there will be. One, I just started grad school, and boy is it a lot more work than I planned on. Two, my mom (who has for the last eight years been living in Alaksa - sorry peeps, but that place is another world and I don't mean that in the magical has fairies and cool stuff way.... okay to vacation it's pretty cool, but you couldn't pay me enough to live there... oh yeah back to change) is moving to Portland.  Whoo hoo!  I mean, seriously.  Before she moved to Alaska, I moved to Los Angeles (another armpit of the west coast, but I won't go into that now) so we've lived apart for the last decade. It's hard to believe it's been that long.  But my mom, sister and I have always been close and we're all looking forward to having her close.

See, those changes don't seem too bad. Learn time management, enjoy mom being back. Good.

But. There are two changes in my writing life that I have to say make me a little bummed. Two of the wonderful ladies from my critique group Young Adult Fiction Fanatics are movin' on. Change comes for everyone in different ways, and sometimes we have to move things around to make them work in our lives. While I know, or at least truly hope, we'll all be able to keep in contact, I want to take the opportunity to thank them both for the fantastic contributions they've brought to the group.

Both of them are fabulous writers and I'm sure someday we'll see them on the shelves.

Cam - you introduced me to the "Show-me" police, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your insight, spirit, and humor infused comments have brightened my writing in ways I cannot even describe. I will miss you on the boards, but fear not, I'll be stalking your blog. And anyone who wants join me can do so here.

Clara - I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed reading your MS. On the boards, you've been a true cheerleader for us all, and your constant positive attitude is truly appreciated and will be missed. I'll see you on FB and I'll also be stalking you on your blog. And anyone who wants to join me can do so here.

I just want to give a big THANK YOU to you both for bringing such positive elements to both my writing and my life.

So even though I prefer my change slow and steady, sometimes it gives you just the opportunity you need to reflect and remember the good things that can come of it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

YAFF MUSE: Lost Language

YAFF Muse is a weekly blog series featuring some YA Fiction Fanatics members. In this series, we'll post original short stories created from an image meant to inspire our Muse. Hope you enjoy! And don't forget to check out the other YAFFers participating in this series (links below).

Photo credit: Vanessa Barger (pssst... she's our very own YAFFer!)

Lost Language
Don’t scream and we’ll let you live. That’s what they said. Two days ago.

I wonder if Father will do what they want. If he even knows I’m gone. He spends so much of his time running from meeting to meeting I barely know we live in the same house. When he is home, he prefers to lock himself in his office scribbling at his desk, big silver headphones on his ears. Drowning out the world to concentrate on work. Drowning out his only daughter. His only family since Mom died.

A thin slice of light blinds me as the door slides open and I wrap my arms tighter around my knees where I sit.

“Get up,” A woman says. She’s the same one who took me. Dark curls, wide brown eyes, heart-shaped face. That's one thing Father taught me, pay attention to detail, it might save your life one day.

“I said get up.” She opens the door wider and begins to enter.

I scramble to my feet, legs shaky beneath me. “Did my Father do what you wanted?”

“Let’s go,” she says.

I follow her down the manila corridor, through doorways with large broken doors hanging from bent hinges. The cool air and burnt scent draws my attention to the walls, etched with deep grooves of black that cast outlines of where people or furniture might have stood, like a reverse shadow.

“Where are we?” I ask through cracked lips.

“These were supposed to be blast-proof, you know,” she says and runs her finger in a line along the soot.

The frigid cold reaches me before we enter the expansive room. Its far wall and three stories above have been blown away and I understand where we are. A place no New Yorker goes anymore. A place bombed like the rest of the island twenty-five years ago, ten years before I was even born.

The woman grabs me back from the main chamber. Away from the wreckage of chairs, tables and exposed cables long dead from carrying electricity. Away, from the man struggling against two larger men at the center of it all.

“Daddy!” I scream and try to get out from her grasp, but she holds me tight.

“What did I tell you about screaming?” she whispers into my ear, her curls tickle my cheek.

“Please,” I say.

But she drags me away, through a doorway and up a narrow flight of stairs. We enter another small room, this one with glass at its center and a view of the huge room beneath. She lets me go and leans against the exit.

On top of a desk, covered in years of dust, are computers, papers, and headphones that look similar to Father’s.

“What is this place? Please, I need to go to my Father. I’m sure he’s given you what you want.” I peak over the desk and cringe as one of the men slap him in the face. Before I know it, my hand pounds against the window. “Daddy!”

“They can’t hear you,” she says.

When I turn to her, she seems to be pinching her ear. “Leon, let him know.” Her eyes find mine and she says, “Now give Daddy a show. Look out the window.”

I follow her commands, but wish I didn’t as I watch one of them men direct my father’s gaze toward me. His eyes go wide, and even from where I stand the fear is evident. My hand aches as I pound on the glass once more. “Daddy!”

“Do it,” the woman says from behind me.

Seconds later, their large fists crash into his temples as booted feet send him to the floor in a crumpled mass.

“No!” I scream and the rusted gate that’s held my secret for so long crumbles to dust as a string of words in my mother tongue fly out of my mouth. Realizing what I’ve done, I clamp my hand over my lips.

“She’s the one,” the woman says. “Let the father go.”

My heart soars and sinks at once as the men drag Father through another exit and out into the night.

“He wouldn’t tell us, you know.”

I turn to her.

“Too loyal to the President, I guess. But you. You’re the true gem.”

“Wha—what do you want from me?” I ask, tears burn as they slide down my face.

“President Smith has coded documents we need deciphered, written in your lost language, of course. And I had a feeling your dad wasn't the only speaker. We need your help.”

“Why do you think I’ll help you? You’re terrorists,” I say. “You must be, or else you wouldn’t do this.”

Her laughter is high pitched, like bells on Christmas and it echoes through the room. “Things are more complicated than that, and trust me, your precious government has done far worse. Tell me, have you heard of The Free Children?”


“Well, come with me and let’s get acquainted.”

“I’m not going anywhere until you promise me he’ll be safe.” I cross my arms in front of my chest, and root my feet to the ground.

“Oh, he’ll be safe for as long as you cooperate. You have my word.” She smiles.

“Like that means so much,” I say.

“You won’t get any other offers, and the alternative is less the desirable, I assure you.” She moves out of the doorway, leaving room for me to join her. “Come on, Deva, the deal won’t stay on the table forever and I can bring him back with a word.”

For him, I follow her.

(c) 2010, MB
Some of you may recognize a main character from my current WIP, Laced. But I hope you enjoyed it even if you haven't been reading Laced as it goes along.
Don't forget to check out my fellow YAFFer's stories based on the same photo:
Vanessa Barger
Traci Kenworth

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

YAFF MUSE: In Dreams

YAFF Muse is a weekly blog series featuring some YA Fiction Fanatics members. In this series, we'll post original short stories created from an image meant to inspire our Muse. Hope you enjoy! And don't forget to check out the other YAFFers participating in this series (links below).

Photo Credit: MorgueFile.com

This story is stand alone, but has recurring characters introduced in The Lake of Swans.

In Dreams

The high-pitched screech of my pager wakes me, and before I know it, Mom and I are rushing down to the station - me still in blue polka-dot boxers and a stained Micky Mouse t-shirt from '05.

Ten kids in six months, and every time, I'm too late.

I know she won't be there, but I glance to the detective's desk. It's been almost a month since she died, and even though she used to cross herself to ward me off, I miss her in a weird way.

"Come along, Darla." Mom stands in the midst of the sea of other empty desks, a hand at her hip, garishly manicured nails tapping in irritation. "Darla," she hisses, her bright red lips twist into a sneer

"Sorry, Mom," I say, catching up with her in two long strides. At least I don't have to walk through the usual mind-chatter.

When we reach Chief Blackstone's office, my skin erupts in goose bumps. "Wait."

"What?" Her hand pauses on the doorknob and she looks over her shoulder at me.

"There's someone else in his office."

"Of course there is, Darla. Why do you think we're here?" She begins to turn the handle.

"I don't know who, or what he has in there, but I'm not going." My feet fuse to the floor, arms cross in front of me.

Like a coiled snake she lunges at me, orange claws dig into the flesh above my elbows. "You're going in, Missy." She drags me forward and I struggle to hold my ground.

The door opens.

"Is everything alright out here?" the Chief asks, smoothing the edges of his mustache.

I get a flash of where he's been and try to close out the vision of naked bodies grinding on poles. But the image persists and as my eyes meet his, a slow crimson spreads across his cheeks.

"We're ready for you Ms. Holiday," he says, opening the door wider, revealing the toe end of a sneaker. "I'm afraid we don't have much time, I'd like to get started."

The taste of blood coats my mouth and I realize I've been biting my lower lip. "Who's in there?" I ask, still refusing to budge.

The Chiefs gray eyebrows shoot up and he chuckles.

"Please forgive my daughter.' Mom's grip on my arm tightens.

"Why don't you come in and meet him?" he suggests.

The decision is made for me when the owner of the shoe steps out of the office. A guy around my age, 16 or maybe a little older, with caramel skin and dark dreads tied loose at the nape of his neck. Untangling myself from Mom, I wrap my arms tight around my torso, wishing she'd allowed me time to change.

"Hi," he says, green eyes glinting with excitement, he stretches out a hand.

I"m temped to take it, to shove off the warning bells my senses sent out when he was still behind the door. But like a snuff film, dark images flicker in my mind.

Fresh blood spilled across delicate white tiles, a girl about twelve with her throat slit like a gruesome smile beneath her chin. The scent of death hangs thick in the air and I'm no longer in the station. There are no doors in this room, no windows, but knowing my body did not come with me, I shift through the walls.

The brick cabin stands alone in a white wasteland, my feet grow cold but they shouldn't. This is only a vision.

I close my eyes tight and will my consciousness to go back to my body, back to the station. And as I feel myself lift into the air with the promise of home, I peek, catching movement in a tree that has popped up next to the cabin. Where a lifeless body swings from a noose.

"Darla!" Mom's screams reach my ears and I open my eyes.

"It's not what you think," the boy says.

My hand moves to my nose and comes away bloody. I scoot away from Mom and the rest of them, my spine pressing against the cool metal of a desk.

"What happened?" I ask.

"This here," the Chief clasps the boy on the shoulder. "He works up images to trap 'em." He hands me a white cotton handkerchief. "But he needs you to find 'em first. You see?"

"That's what you saw. it's not real," the boy says, holding out a white business card.

What's in his head if he can conjure up such horrible images to tempt a witch? And how did he pull me into it?

I take the card, and just like mine in black letters it reads:


(c) 2010, MB

Don't forget to check out my fellow YAFFer's stories based on the same photo: