Archive for the Parenting Category

Parenting while Living in the Shadow of the Greats

Posted in Books, Mothers, Parenting, Writing with tags , , , , on January 21, 2014 by Jessica Crichton

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There is very little I know about this life. One thing I can reasonably state as fact, however, is my direct connection with the greats of literature. This isn’t because I sit around reading their work, brooding over the depth of their prose. I’m not even proud that I’m part of this “elite” group. It actually… kind of sucks.

See, I actually live the life they did… only in my own century.

I am what most people call “a night person”. This isn’t particularly a romantic title, but I don’t really care. (Does that make me totally emo awesome? Still don’t care.) Seriously, with a bluntness that only comes from being entirely, raw-honest, I can say that more than half the time I wish I could be… normal. Just normal. Able to go to bed at what “decent folk” call a “decent hour”. Able to get up in time to get my kids ready for school with a smile on my face and scrambled eggs in their bellies.

The reality, however, is far darker.

My kids love me, and I love them. I get up with them long enough to get them out the door. I go to EVERY parent-teacher conference, and I schedule mommy-daughter and mommy-son dates. Their birthday parties are AMAZING. We eat dinner around the table more nights than not, and discuss the craziest subjects, like religion, philosophy, and politics.

Yes, even with the 6-year-0ld.

But on a day-to-day scale, I drop the ball. A lot.

My kids know how to make their own breakfast. Even my youngest. My kids’ bedding goes weeks without being laundered. Sometimes their underwear does, too. They read a lot… but they also play a lot of video games. There are days when they don’t see me at all, because my nocturnally natural and professional schedule just doesn’t work with the one I am trying to let them have.

Usually, that’s on the weekends… usually.

If Edgar Allen Poe had kids… if Emily Bronte’ followed the traditions of her gender in her time… if Mark Twain was a single father… they’d be me.

I’m torn between being proud of my natural predilection towards nocturnal-literati-weirdness, and my fear that my children are being neglected because of it. But there’s one thing I do know, and that’s the fact that I was born to be a crazy writer.

Sometimes I just wonder if maybe I should have been a cat person instead of a mommy…

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The Zombies are Coming… RELEASE DAY! YESSSSSSS!

Posted in Books, kidlit, Kids, Parenting, Reading with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

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“What was that?” Roach whispered, pointing across the water.

At the exact same time, I saw movement in the bushes under the archway. I hoped so hard that it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. I hoped. And hoped.

And HOPED.

Then my hopes were crashed into a billion little pieces.

Small shadows — tons of them – broke out of the greater gloom, wading silently through the water towards us. I sat there, unable to move or even scream, as they got closer and closer. Soon I could make out human-like shapes, arms raised, legs moving jerkily through the green sludge.

About halfway across the water, the shadows gave out a long, low moaning-wail that froze my bones.

“What… what’re they sayin?” Roach whispered.

I shook my head. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe.

But I knew exactly what they were saying.

“BRAAAAAAAINS!”

Yes, it’s THAT time! Finally! Time to reveal the exact release day for The Counterfeit Zombies of Noc, Book 2 of “Guts and Glory, Freedom Fighters of Nil”! (Book 1 can be found here.) So, without further ado, just in time for Halloween…

Online Ordering Release: Friday, October 11th, 2013

First Public Paperback Release and Signing: Saturday and Sunday, October 26th and 27th, 2013 at Glamirita Clothing and Accessories in Spokane, WA!

Thank you all for your patience while Jessica Turner and I have been working hard to bring you the best “Guts and Glory” ever! We promise, it’ll be worth it. 🙂

The Five Best Things about Raising Kids Poor

Posted in Family, Family Life, Kids, mothers, Parenting with tags , , , , on September 11, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

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I see a lot of blog posts about parenting out there, and many of them are a lot of fun to read, laugh with, and relate to.  Still, these are often written about subjects to which I am woefully unrelatable, such as picking the perfect nanny, or how to get your kid into an ivy-league college starting in preschool. Now, I’m not saying these things aren’t relevant; I’m sure for many parents they are, or else they wouldn’t be written about. And I would never be one to judge any parent (unless they harm their children — that deserves a lot more than judgement, as far as I’m concerned). However, I am pretty sure I am not the only mommy out there who’s parenting world is a bit different than the perceived norm of soccer practices and brand-name baby carriages.

As I have written about before, I am not what one would call… well-off. Actually I’m not even middle class. Of course, when one says this, one is usually expected to follow up with reasons why being poor is a terrible thing, how they want to win the Lottery one day, how the world is awful and judgmental, etc.

I’m not going to do that.

As I said before, I’m not the only parent raising their children in what America calls poverty, and we have all heard quite enough about how horrible it all is. Heck, we’re quite aware of it in our own lives thank-you-very-much. But what I haven’t heard much of is the good things. The happy things. The wonderful day-to-dayness of parenting poor (as opposed to poorLY — that’s a very different thing). So, for myself and my fellow penniless parents out there, here is my list of the top five BEST things about raising un-monied children:

5) Our Kids Have to Learn to be Thankful

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I’m not saying that those parents who are better off can’t teach their children to be meek and thankful, but I am saying that poor kids don’t really have a choice in the matter. My own children have learned from day one that they won’t get everything they want in life, not because I don’t want to give them all their desires, but because I can’t. Seeing that Mom would like to give them what they want, but still can’t do it, not only shows my children that the world won’t just give them whatever they desire, but it makes them far more thankful for what they can have. Though any parent can teach their child thankfulness, poor parents have the automatic default of showing their kids — in real time — why hard work is important.

Which brings me to…

4) Our Kids Get Daily Lessons in Reality

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This is similar to #5, but not exactly the same. See, I am divorced from my children’s father as well as poor. This isn’t something I’m particularly proud of, but life is the way it is. However, it gives me a myriad of lessons to teach my children in order to improve their futures:

“Why are you and dad divorced?” “Because we got married too young — don’t do that.”

“Why are we so poor?” “Because Mommy didn’t do anything to get ready for having kids before she had you. Go to college. Get a career, not just a job. Be ready for your kids.”

My children get these lessons on almost a daily basis. My high school junior is planning college with a view towards a career, not just a degree, and my sophomore has said that she WILL get a PhD… because Mom now has a Master’s and she can do better. I’m proud of my children, what they have accomplished and will accomplish. I am also a natural spoiler. If I had money, my children would most likely be learning some very different lessons… and not the best ones.

3)  Family Time is AWESOME

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I’m sure going to the spa, or Disneyland, or beach house, or whatever is a lot of fun for some families. I’m even sure my family would enjoy such a thing. However, we have some pretty awesome family times ourselves.

For example, there are times when we do have some extra cash, so we have things like a T.V. and video game system for family-time livingroom sleepovers with popcorn, game tournaments, and family movies. There are also some great free, or close to free, family outings that we do on a regular basis. Here in Spokane there is a HUGE free fountain in the central park downtown where kids can run through and splash and have a blast. We go there often when it’s warm, packing a picnic lunch from our own home stores of budgeted groceries. This costs about $3 — for parking. We also go camping, which is a WONDERFUL time to not only give our kids some great memories, but spend real time with each-other without the distractions of T.V., laptops, or even cell phones. This usually costs a bit more for gas and some extra campy-style food, but we have some free campsites we like to go to, so that the total cost for an entire weekend of family fun is only around $40 max. Usually less. Wintertime offers parks for sledding with home-brought hot cocoa, or family game night with mommy-made kid’durves (usually tiny peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and chips).

Of course, this isn’t meant to say that our family times are any better than anyone else’s, but it is to say that yeah we have it. And yes, it can be AWESOME. Still…

2) It Takes Work

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So, you might be saying “how the heck is this a GOOD thing?” Let me explain.

I am not going to sit here and say I know what it’s like to raise kids with money. That would be asinine, and a lie. That said, I DO know myself, and I know that if I had money to spare, I’d probably take as many shortcuts as possible to make my parenting life easier. However, I don’t have money to spare, and so I have to take extra time to spend quality moments with my children. Between job-hunting, bill paying, and the everyday stress of not knowing details about the future state of either, my kids could easily get lost in the shuffle. I have to make a concerted effort to remember to give my twelve-year-old the scraps of cloth and holey clothes I find in the laundry so she can practice her sewing skills. I have to work hard at planning creative birthday parties around a non-existent budget, to sign my kids up for the free programs at school so they can go to cross country practices and sing in choir, to plan a special fun meal with nothing more than a loaf of bread and some frozen hamburger, to stop and hug my kids, even when my mind is racing with anxiety over how the electric bill is going to get paid…

My kids aren’t stupid. They span in age from 6 to 16. They see things. They hear things. They know Mom and Dad (my new husband) are stressing out. But they also see past that. They see the love. They see the dedication. They understand that no matter what, they are the very most important thing to us. And they know this because it takes so much work to keep their lives as happy, carefree and normal as possible, even while our own feels like it’s falling apart.

1) Our Kids are Compassionate

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Again, let me qualify this with the fact that I am not saying wealthier kids can’t be compassionate. What I am saying is my children have empathy for those in need, because they have been in-need themselves many times. We have been to the food bank where my kids have given other kids the donuts they just got, because maybe those kids don’t have a big sister who will bake for them later. My now sixteen-year-old daughter, when she was only eight and very shy, stood up for a friend who was being bullied because she herself was bullied so often for wearing the “wrong” clothes. My nine-year-old son shares everything he gets with his six-year-old sister, because he knows that maybe neither of them will get it again any time soon. I have been complimented in public, not for how well my children behave, but for how well they treat each-other. The words from one particular old lady will forever echo in my mind as one of the greatest moments of my life: “It’s so wonderful to see your children together. It’s obvious that they love each-other very much.”

Am I bragging? Maybe a little. 😉 But I have a sneaking suspicion that if my children hadn’t had it so rough growing up, they wouldn’t be so soft now. Sure, my influence and lessons have made an impact, but again, I am a natural coddler. If we had money, my kids would quite possibly not understand what it’s like to be in need, to be downtrodden, to be on the outside looking in. And without that understanding it’s very difficult to sympathize — let alone empathize — with others in the same position.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I want to remain poor for the rest of my life. Like the vast majority of people, I want the best life I can have for myself, my husband, and my children. This is why I have worked so hard to earn my Master’s (which I just received last month, hence the lack of job at the moment). Still, I’m a little tired of seeing only the bad side of being poor. Poor parents aren’t bad parents, and we aren’t always miserable, either.

In fact, sometimes being a poor parent is pretty danged great.

I’m Writing This on My Break

Posted in Parenting, Shiny Happy Musings, Writing with tags , , , on July 18, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

For the last few months, I’ve been working on my master’s thesis and stressing out about everything from why the agency looking at my manuscript has been silent for so long (I suspect aliens; it’s always aliens), to where my kitchen and mud room sinks went (it MIGHT have something to do with dirty dishes… maybe). In fact, I’ve been so stressed and uptight that I stopped even noticing it. That is, until yesterday when I thought to wonder why my neck was always so hurty, and why, no matter how much sleep I got, I was still tired.

So today I took a break. From everything.

No worrying about bills.
No stress over landing a post-graduation job.
No obsessing on that wonderful, dreamy agency.
No checking and rechecking my email for either of the above.
No forcing myself to edit or revise anything. (Note: Sometimes, fellow writers, it ISN’T a good idea after all.)
No stressing over what my second thesis reader is going to tell me.

I’m at the park. Lying in the grass. Enjoying the birds and the sun and the flowered breeze whifting off the river nearby.

And you know what? I think, when I get home, I might actually get those dishes done after all.

Dwarves Don’t Drink Pop

Posted in Books, Parenting, Reading, Writing with tags , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

This is chapter 10 of my webnovel, The Elementals: Song of Spirit. If you’re on the wrong chapter, or are just starting to read, click here for the linked table of contents. And happy reading! ~ JR

Chapter 10
Dwarves Don’t Drink Pop

Quinn eyed his food hungrily. His plate, which appeared to him more like an enormous steel shield, was heaped high with what looked to be roasted turkey legs, huge chunks of beef-like meat, roasted potatoes, cooked whole white carrot-like roots, hunks of dark bread and huge chunks of yellow and white cheese. Alongside the shield-plate was a matching goblet in style and size. More like a stemmed bowl than a cup, it was filled to the brim with a dark red drink that Quinn hoped was grape juice. As it was, he didn’t know; he hadn’t taken a taste of anything set before him. According to Illthan, he wasn’t to touch it until Hephaestus began to eat.

For the first time in his short life, Quinn wanted very badly to do something grown-up. And to do it right.

And so he sat still on Hephaestus’ right, fingers itching to grab a turkey leg, at the head of a massive wood table in the god’s dining hall. The table was flanked on both sides by enormous stone fireplaces that almost took up the whole wall from which they were carved, both burning bright. Each guest at the board had matching shield-plates and bowl-cups, filled to the brims with food and drink. Across from Quinn, to the left of the god, sat Illthan, and to Quinn’s direct right was Grimhammer. Quinn’s sisters sat at the other end of the table, almost so far away that he couldn’t see them in the cavernous underground room. Ellen, as the eldest, sat at the foot of the table and Rose, propped up on pillows, sat to Ellen’s right; Romin took the place to her left.

The rest of the table was filled with laughing, yelling dwarves, all elders, proudly bearded with the rest of their faces tattooed in red and green.

When all had been seated, Hephaestus stood, scraping his chair along the stone floor, and raised his goblet high. The room silenced instantly, all eyes on the god.

“The time has come, mi brothers!” he cried, grinning wide. “Our lad has been returned ta us by The Great Queen! And though he has been tainted by more human blood than dwarven, he be our Son of Valor still. Welcome, mi brothers, Sir Quinn, Son of Valor!”

Quinn glanced at Illthan, who nodded. Slowly, the boy stood up and looked at the god with worry, but Hephaestus only nodded with a fatherly smile. Swallowing hard, Quinn faced the crowd.

“H… hi…” He cleared his thought, and began again. “I…” He faltered, terrified of upsetting these mighty dwarves who called him their brother.

He strained to see the end of the table where Ellen and Rose sat. The toddler was waving wildly at him with a grin, but Ellen stared at her plate with a scowl.

He frowned, remembering what had happened with Mae. At the time he hadn’t been entirely sure why he had pointed her out, but it had felt like the right thing to do. And now, after Illthan had explained to him why Mae had to be imprisoned, it felt even more right.

Except that now Ellen was mad at him.

He was pretty sure Mae was, too, but she was one of the bad Fire-Born people that wanted to kidnap all the cute little dwarf babies so he didn’t care what she thought. Ellen, though, should have understood. Wasn’t she always protecting her siblings from that kind of thing? Why wasn’t she proud of him for doing the same?

Quinn sighed, looking sadly at Illthan. “I can’t,” he whispered, loud enough for half the massive table to hear.

Illthan made a sickly, smiling face. “Go ahead, Sir Quinn, jus’ as I instructed,” he said through clenched teeth.

Again, Quinn faced the crowd. Again, he saw Ellen scowling, though this time it was directly at him.

He balled his hands into fists, puffing out his chest in a way that made him feel big and important. I’m a hero, and she’s mad at me for it. I’m never good enough for her! Well, I’ll show her. I’ll show everyone! I’ll be the best dwarf ever!

Taking a deep breath and keeping his eyes on Ellen, he began his speech again, this time louder and more confident.

“Hello me brudders!”

Suddenly, a wild cheer went up among the dwarves, making Quinn jump. Hephaestus held up a hand and they were silent once more.

The boy grinned. They liked him! Encouraged, he went on, remembering the words Illthan had taught him to say. “Mi name be Sir Quinn, an’ I be here at the biddin’ o’ The Great Queen ta help save our world again from the dark forces what besiege it!”

The cheer went up once more, but this time the god joined in, along with Grimhammer and Illthan. Goblets were pounded enthusiastically on the table with a booming rattle. With a sigh of relief, Quinn sat down again.

Hephaestus stood and waved a turkey leg over his head. “Now, let us dine and drink in celebration! Our son has been returned to us!”

The cheer grew louder, but was quickly replaced by lip smacking, goblet toasting and bone crunching as they dug into their feast with vigor.

Quinn didn’t realize how hungry he was until he bit into a turkey leg. Sure enough, it tasted exactly like turkey, just as the roasted red meat tasted like beef. The white carrots tasted more like a mixture of potatoes and turnips than carrots, but the boy liked them anyway. Overall, it was a very good meal and he dug in gusto.

Chewing, the boy reached for his goblet and took a large gulp. Instantly, he coughed, spitting out the food in his mouth and almost choking. He wheezed, flicking his tongue in and out, panicked.

“Sir Quinn, what be the trouble, mi boy?” Grimhammer asked, thumping the boy on his back. “Ye choke on a bone did ye?”

With three more swallows of air, Quinn could finally speak. He pointed at his goblet with a shaky finger. “Wha… wha… what is that?”

Grimhammer looked confused. “Why, it be Addleberry Ale, Sir Quinn. Finest inna plane! Would ye rather a bit ‘o wine?”

Quinn made a face. “Eww. Wine is gross! And ale? What’s ale?” He eyed his goblet with distrust. “Is it grownup drink too?”

The old dwarf shook his head. “Grownup drink? I’m not sure’s I get ye, young Sir.”

Illthan, having heard the discourse, looked confused as well at first, but he quickly regained his composure. “Sir Quinn, in the human plane, do ye not drink?”

“We drink, but drinks like wine are only for grownups. Kids drink milk and pop and stuff,” Quinn explained. “There’s no pop here?” he asked, sadly.

“I’m sure I dunno what be this pop ye speak o’, young Sir,” Illthan replied, concerned. “I be sorely disappointed that our Son o’ Valor be uneducated even in proper drink fer a dwarf.”

“So… dwarf kids drink this stuff too?” Quinn asked, sadly.

“Aye,” Grimhammer answered. “Tis what we drink, always.”

Quinn scowled. “I can’t drink this. It’s… gross. And it hurts my throat.”

Illthan gasped, appalled. “Aye, Sir Quinn, but ye must! It be…”

“Enough.”

Quinn, Grimhammer and Illthan turned to face Hephaestus, who glared back at the KnowMaster.

“Illthan Bogearth, ye was charged by yer Lord ta serve the Son o’ Valor as well as teach him. Did ye forget this?”

Illthan was abashed. “Nay, great Earth-Lord, I dinna. But…”

“Then you will find a way to make this… pop… for him. The lad says ‘e can’t drink ale, then ‘e can’t drink ALE!”

Without waiting for a reply from the thin dwarf, Hephaestus turned to face Quinn. “Now, then, young Sir. What be in this pop o’ yours?”

Quinn thought for a moment. “I… don’t know. Other people make it. I just know we get it at the store.”

The god stroked his beard in thought. “Well, then. Would any of yer sisters know?”

Quinn shrugged. “Ellen or Mae might. They’re pretty smart.”

The god snapped his fingers and instantly a young, unbearded dwarf came to his side.

“Fetch the elder human lass ta me,” the god ordered.

With a bow, the young servant was off immediately.

“Why are all the servants kids?” Quinn asked.

“That be how the dwarves teach ‘um,” Hephaestus replied, taking a bite from a large chunk of dark bread. He swallowed it with a swig of ale and gave a loud belch before continuing. “All dwarven lads must put in their servitude time in order ta earn the right ta become a warrior. Tis important that all dwarves understand that they serve each-other. They serve the whole.”

“Kinda like chores,” Quinn said, frowning. “I hate chores.”

The god laughed heartily and patted the boy’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, young Sir. Ye don’t have to serve. We serve ye.”

“But why?” Quinn asked, his curiosity finally at its peak. “I still don’t get it …”

At that moment the young servant returned with Ellen.

“Thank ye, Drumble,” the god said, dismissing the young dwarf. He then turned to the girl. “Now, then. I trust the fare be to yer liking young lass?”

Ellen glanced at Quinn, her scowl deepening. She took a deep breath, turned to the god, and nodded politely. “Thank you for the wonderful meal, Earth-Lord. But I’m afraid the drink …”

“Aye, that’s just what we was discussin’.” The god nodded towards Quinn. “Yer brother here says he canna drink ale?”

Ellen grinned at Quinn proudly, her anger forgotten for the moment. “Oh thank God. I was worried he’d drink it without me there to tell him no.”

It was Quinn’s turn to scowl. “I told you I can be responsible.”

“Don’t push your luck, runt,” Ellen replied, frowning again. “You’re still in pretty hot water with me.”

“I can. You always treat me like a baby.”

“Because you are still a baby,” Ellen replied. “And you proved it when you chose a bunch of dwarves over your family.”

“He says,” Hephaestus continued, breaking up the sibling argument, “that he wants pop. What be this pop of which he speaks? Do ye know what it be made of? I wish very badly ta make our Son of Valor happy here.”

Ellen sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. Before answering, she adjusted her glasses. “It’s a drink that we have on the Surface. It’s bad for you, though.” She eyed Quinn with a smirk and shook her head as if to say she knew he couldn’t be responsible after all. “Do you have milk? That will be much better.”

“Do ye want milk, young Sir?” Hephaestus asked the boy.

Quinn glanced at his sister with a sly grin before looking back at the god. “No, Earth-Lord. I’d much rather have pop, if you can make it.”

Ellen growled in her throat but said nothing.

“Ye heard the Sir,” Hephaestus said to the girl. “Do ye know what this pop be made of? I’ll send mi best brewers to makin’ it right away.”

Quinn’s smirk deepened. He would finally get his way here. Here, he was special.

Ellen shook her head. “Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you. It’s bad for him. And plus, he made me mad.”

The god grumbled, glancing down the table at Romin before returning his attention to the girl. “Would the Sorceress know?”

Ellen was about to tell him she was pretty sure Mae had no idea, when a thought struck her. “Maybe she would. Would you release her if she told you?”

Hephaestus’ eyes narrowed. “Ye walk a dangerous line, lass,” he said, his voice soft. “Yer sister’s in me dungeon fer serious crimes …”

“Crimes that have not even happened and crimes she had nothing to do with if they had,” Ellen reminded him.

The god nodded. “Aye, and crimes that her bein’ in mi dungeon will make sure never do happen,” he countered.

Ellen fumed. It took all she had to stay calm and try to reason with the Earth-Lord. “How about talking to the Fire-Lord?” she asked, trying a new tactic. “Maybe your intelligence is wrong.”

The god pounded his fist on the table with a loud boom, silencing all of the diners. His next words could easily be heard within the hall.

“Mi dwarves are brave and true, lass. I trust their words over a corrodin’ Fire-Born any day. Question their truth again and ye’ll be joinin’ yer sister!”

The hall erupted in cheers and claps, then faded into background noise as conversation began once more.

Ellen sighed, frustrated. She would obviously need a new tactic to free Mae, and certainly couldn’t help much if she was in the dungeon with her. “OK, fine. Whatever. May I go eat now?”

The god nodded at her. “Good lass.”

With a grumble, Ellen left his side without a word to Quinn.

Hephaestus turned to the boy. “We maybe kin get the information ye need outta yer sister below,” he offered.

Quinn nodded. “OK. But I wanna go too. I wanna make sure she’s OK.”

The god raised an eyebrow. “Aye?”

“Yeah,” Quinn answered. “She’s a sneaky Fire-Born, but she is my sister… even if she was always mean to me.”

Hephaestus nodded, impressed. “Ye truly be a Son o’ Valor, lad.”

Quinn beamed at the compliment.

Next Chapter

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Who are You… Really?

Posted in Books, Family, fathers, mothers, Parenting, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

“How can ya go by names ‘at don’t mean nothin’? That’s loony!” ~ Books, Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine

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Who are you?

To some, that may be easy to answer. But to most it’s very difficult. Most of us go through our lives trying to figure out the answer to just that exact question. In Nil, the Kids have figured that out — their names define them, and anyone who’s name doesn’t, is entirely foreign to them. In our world, too, kids know who they are. They have figured out their passions, their joy, their place in the world. It isn’t until they are teenagers — inundated with the world’s definition of who they are rather than their own — that they get confused… and for the most part stay that way until their deathbed.

So… who are you? What’s your Nil name? It is the name you gave yourself when you were a child, and thus, it is your only true name.

Remember. Be that person again. Live that life. Until you do, you will never again be fully you.

Hi. I’m Scribbler. I scribble stories.

What is YOUR Nil name?

 

Spoiled and Soiled

Posted in Books, Kids, Parenting, Reading, Writing with tags , , , on May 13, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

This is chapter 8 of my webnovel, The Elementals: Song of Spirit. If you’re on the wrong chapter, or are just starting to read, click here for the linked table of contents. And happy reading! ~ JR

Chapter 8
Spoiled and Soiled

Kat watched herself in a giant mirror carved out of a pink clamshell, smiling with delight as the mermaids, lounging on special chairs to accommodate their tailfins, brushed and braided her curly hair, painted her fingernails and toenails a shimmering aquamarine, and chattered happily.

“It is so amazing to have you back, Princess,” one mermaid said, daintily biting her lip as she painted the final coat onto Kat’s pinky nail. “I grew up hearing about you, but never once thought I would actually meet you!”

“Does this mean Adams is back?” another asked fearfully as she brushed Kat’s hair.

“Of course not, silly!” a third giggled, her fingers deftly braiding. “Our Princess kicked his fins last time so hard he’ll be licking his wounds until The Great Queen ends the world!”

At this, the entire group exploded into giggles.

The mermaid’s chatter faded into the background as Kat replayed her journey to Atlantis in her mind. Her chariot-bubble had sunk far below the waves of the Aether Plane, accompanied in the front by Poseidon and behind by his guards.

Though she had left her siblings behind, Kat had not been afraid as she watched a rainbow kaleidoscope of sea creatures glide by her bubble, some so close that they almost brushed against its iridescent side. The underwater scenery was surprisingly clear, revealing far-off gray and white whales as they drifted lazily by, sleek sharks darting here and there among schools of brightly colored fish, and a massive blob of almost invisible jellyfish hanging in the water, a clear-colored rainforest of tentacles.

It was all beautiful and amazing, but nothing compared to the great city itself. Like all little girls, Kat had watched the mermaid cartoons on TV where they showed an underground city that they sometimes called Atlantis. Naturally, she had expected to come to similar place, a traditionally fairy-taleish palace made mostly of white and blue coral-like materials with different kinds of shells placed here and there for show.

The true Atlantis, she soon found out, was beyond anything any of the artists or animators had dreamed of recreating. Kat first saw it as a speck in the water ahead, though as they neared the shadowy form it grew in size as well as detail.

The great city stood on the very tip of an enormous undersea mountain that was so tall its base could not be seen below, even in the crystal clear waters of the Aether Plane. The rough coral that made up this mass was every conceivable color, a literal rainbow of a mountain, and here and there all over its sides grew an array of underwater plants, most of which were so fantastical in hue and form that Kat was certain they did not grow on her plane at all. Multicolored fish of every shape and size swam among these plants, some darting in and out among them as if they lived there; somehow, Kat was certain they did. Atlantis itself seemed to be molded from the mountain on which it stood, each of its many irregular, tall, slim coral spires and turrets covered in underwater foliage of every shape and color imaginable. The open windows of the city itself were relegated to shadowy afterthoughts set at regular intervals under the moving, sparkling life that covered its walls.

The entire place shone through the shimmering blue waters in such deep, rich rainbow hues that it had nearly taken Kat’s breath away.

Central to the city, rising at least forty feet over all, was the Tower of Poseidon. Unlike the rest of Atlantis, the Tower was only one color — gleaming white — and its sides were smooth and sleek. It rose from the middle of Atlantis like a giant spike, its tip sharp as a needlepoint. Its only discernable features were the small round windows that ran up and down its front in a perfectly straight line.

It was within this Tower that Kat now sat, gazing dreamily out of one of its round windows. Her suite was more lavish than she had ever dreamed a home could be, and had been specially prepared for her with a giant oxygen bubble surrounding all four rooms. Within these rooms she had an amazing assortment of goodies, including a waterfall shower bath the size of a pool, a large, richly linen-ed bed crafted from a giant half shell, and an art studio that included homemade paints as well as an array of easels holding shellback canvases and giant poster-sized seaweedy paper. The sparkling mother-of-pearl floors were covered here and there by delicately braided rugs of many colors that smelled faintly of fish, and the coral walls formed natural shelves of unique shapes and sizes on which thousands of small mermaid dolls had been placed. The dolls had been beautifully handcrafted out of sea sponges and various bits and parts of the gorgeous Aether Plane plantlife.

All this had been prepared especially for Kat based on questions she was asked on her way to Atlantis.

Her favorite part of this new life, however, was the dresses.

Half of one of her rooms was a giant closet, stuffed full of the most beautiful dresses she had ever seen, all her size, which had also been asked of her on her journey in the bubble. In preparation for her dinner with Papa Poseidon (a name that had come to her tongue quite naturally), she had tried on almost two dozen entirely unique styles already, posing in front of the full-length mother-of-pearl mirror as the mermaids oohed and awed and told her how beautiful she was.

Now, dressed in her final choice — a poufy aquamarine ball gown boasting a dark pink sash across the chest and matching cinching ribbon up the back — she sat in front of her lavish vanity and watched the mermaids put the finishing touches on her formal dinner look. The braiding was finished, and they deftly piled the tiny braids on top of her head with the natural curls they had left free, arranging it all in a multilayered waterfall look that Kat adored. Her bangs fell softly across her forehead with little curls hanging down at her ears and neck, and a small white coral tiara completed the look. Her fingernails and toenails were painted aquamarine with a tiny, real pink shell added to each, to match her gown.

The mermaids squealed and clapped with delight as she got up and stood once more at the full length mirror.

Kat smiled at herself, twirling around this way and that in front of the mirror in pure joy. She was a true princess!

“I have always wondered,” one mermaid pondered as she watched Kat dance before the mirror, “what it would be like to have legs.”

“Oh it would be just awful!” another replied. “How would you swim?”

“I swim just fine,” Kat retorted. “I just kick my legs real good. What’s it like to not be able to walk?”

The mermaids looked at each-other confusedly.

“What is walking?” the original speaker asked.

Kat walked to the vanity, then turned around and returned to the mirror. “That’s walking,” she said.

“Ah, so that is what it is called,” another mermaid replied, clapping her hands in delight. “When we set up your rooms we were very curious how you would possibly get around in this strange, heavy bubble, then when you came and we saw, we were so surprised!”

“But don’t you see sailors walk around on their ships?” Kat asked, confused.

The mermaids looked at each-other again, giggling.

“There are very few of us who even go close to the surface, Princess,” the same mermaid who had spoken before answered.

“Father fears for our safety,” another answered with a shudder.

The mermaids all shivered at once, dramatically. A few even pretended to faint. Then they all burst into laughter.

“Oh,” Kat said, confused. “But… why would Papa Poseidon be afraid of anything?”

“Oh, he isn’t of course!” a few mermaids said at once.

“He’s just worried about us, Princess,” another explained.

“There are bad things on the Surface,” another agreed.

Kat was about to ask what could possibly be bad in such a wonderful place when a horn blew in the hallway. It was funny sounding, deep and foggy. It took the girl a moment before she remembered it was being blown underwater.

The mermaids all jumped, clapping in delight.

“Father calls for us!”

“Dinnertime at last!”

“The feast! The feast!”

“You simply must come at once, Princess!”

At that, another bubble was formed for the now beautifully-adorned Princess Kat and they were on their way to an underwater banquet in her honor.

“I am seriously going to kill that boy!” Mae fumed to herself, pacing angrily back and forth in the small cell. It was barely tall enough to allow her to stand, and her head brushed the wet, rough stone ceiling as she paced, bringing droplets of stale water raining down on her. As a precaution, the dwarves had surrounded her cell with pools of musty water and thoroughly wet down the walls, ceiling and floor inside. Not only this, but the cell itself was located directly below an underground lake beneath Hephaestus’ palace, and continuous runnels from the tarn ran down the walls and kept the ceiling damp. Besides a pile of moldy, wet straw in one corner, the small cell was entirely empty.

Mae was very wet, very dirty and very angry.

“I don’t even know how to use fire,” she muttered to herself, annoyed at the abundance of water surrounding her. “All this stuff about elements is confusing,” she went on, grabbing the damp iron bars of her cell. She leaned her forehead between two bars and sighed, looking at her combat boots as she kicked at the bars. “I didn’t even want to come to this stupid place in the first place,” she muttered.

She sniffed, but denied the tears she felt coming. She was no crybaby.

Instead of crying, she would figure a way out of this.

Then she would wring her brother’s scrawny neck.

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