Wild Ride

So for this prompt from my 52 week writing challenge, a story about a near death experience, I decided to go with an incident that actually happened to me about a month ago. Enjoy!

Driving down the 95 is hell on a good day, but at night in a sports car with terrible blind spots and a passenger who’s head blocks most of the right-hand visual? Recipe for disaster. That’s why I didn’t even know something was happening until my mom started screaming and reaching her arm out to me.

Before I knew it, in slow motion, like a movie or a dream, an all-black car, faded paint and no headlights, skidded up my right against the barricade, spun across all four lanes heading south bound to the other side, stopped only by the left-hand barricade.

Meanwhile, my sweaty hands stayed on the wheel, gripping the rubber cover so tight my knuckles were numb. My arms mechanically swiveled the wheel side to side, but I barely felt my car weave with the movement within my lane.

My mom kept screaming something. I don’t know what she said. Just words. My dad screamed in the back seat too, but it was all warbled noise, like that one teacher from the Peanuts cartoons.

I may have stopped breathing. My heart may have stopped beating. Hard to tell when all you see is a car spinning out of control like something out of a James Bond movie and you’re smack in the middle of it. The weirdest part though? On a Florida road at night going 70 miles an hour, every car around and behind me somehow managed to make an arcing pathway for the car losing control.

Like Moses parted the red sea, my red Pontiac G5 was the dividing line that all the other cars managed to follow and avoid crashing into one another like a carnival bumper car ride.

A huge crash and sudden stop in front of me brought the world’s volume back up full blast. I slammed on the brakes and barely stopped in time. The mini SUV in front had been hit by the car that lost control and so I stopped too, without a scratch or even a dent.

If the both of us had been driving just a little faster, that would’ve been my car that took the hit, and my car could not survive that crash. Too small to take the impact.

A miracle. Serendipity. A guardian angel. Call it what you will, but it was freakin’ insane. And the real kicker? My life did not flash before my eyes. Nothing flashed.

The world stood still while I watched that car skid, swerve and slide its way across a highway and narrowly miss my car. Fast and slow. Still and in motion. Like time and space had converged at that one point and the universe had caved in and recreated itself to unfold right then and there.

No, my life did not flash before my eyes. It just stopped and went on.

Day of Birth

For this 52 week writing challenge prompt, “a story that takes place the year you were born,” I decided to tell the story I’ve heard so many times from my mom about the day I was born, in my own words and how I heard the story. Happy Thanksgiving reading!

“GET! ME! TO! THE! HOS.PIT.AAAAAALLLL!” she screamed like a banshee.

“I’m trying!” he hadn’t meant to shout. It was stressful trying to navigate Miami traffic with a woman giving labor in the backseat though.

“Just hang in there, Sony.” Her brother-in-law’s already high pitched voice sounded squeakier and more anxious than usual.

She gritted her teeth and tried to keep the screams down, but it was hard. After nearly 10 months of being pregnant, the same day a C-section is scheduled, the damn baby decided to be born mere hours before she was supposed to be at the hospital.

Her husband ran red light after red light, honking viciously at other drivers to move out of his way. “Damn it, where’s a cop when you need one?” He was trying to get a police officer’s attention to get him an escort to clear the way to the hospital. No such luck this day, though.

As he approached a railway in the path, he didn’t slow down, but instead sped up and flew over the tracks. The motion set another screaming wave from the back seat. “Watch it, you idiot. The baby just almost flew out of here.”

He muttered curses under his breath in Spanish. It shouldn’t have taken this long to get to the hospital, but that’s Miami for you. A simple three-mile route turned into a zig zagging journey through back streets and side roads avoiding traffic and took three times as long to get to your destination.

When they finally got there, her brother-in-law jumped out of the car and ran for help. She got lucky and was put directly on a gurney and transferred to the elevator to get her to a room. The baby was stubborn though, and started crowning in the cramped space shared with strangers. Her worst fear had come true. Her legs spread and her business open to the public, giving birth. She screamed more in frustration and embarrassment than from pain.

The doctor barely had time to get in the room. None of the usual prep for a birthing was done. No time to stand on ceremony. The baby came on her own time, disregarding her parents’ careful plans and strategies.

Nearly an hour later, they held the baby in their arms, the mother sweating and eyes closed, the father’s hands shaking, and the brother-in-law dozing off in the waiting room.

Taking It Back

Here’s a short story for my 52 week writing challenge for the prompt “a retelling of a recent Hollywood movie.” I used a very loose base from this movie my friends and I saw in theaters to create this story. I wonder who can figure out what it is 😛

Val needed help, and fast. But no one was crazy or brave enough to take down the Wendigo’s clan. He ruled through fear, and rightly so. If his orders were disobeyed or someone insulted him in any way, that person became enemy number one, and things ended in the worst way for them. They called him the Wendigo for a reason.

The latest victim of the Wendigo’s tyrannical rule: Val’s brother Xavier. Xavier had been a soldier in the Wendigo’s army, and not by choice. Every day he was tasked with abhorrent orders, the kind that gave him nightmares and kept him fitful as he lay under the dark sky in the hut him and Val shared. Yesterday, it was the last straw. Xavier couldn’t take it anymore.

***

“You, soldier,” the Wendigo said to Val’s brother. “This young woman denies me what is mine. Let me deny her what is hers. Gather her children and slaughter them for the gods.” Everyone in the ranks stood in stunned silence.

Xavier had stepped forward and walked toward the shaking and terrified young woman. He made as if to act on his leader’s orders, but then turned and made everyone gasp. “No.”

The Wendigo rose from his throne and crossed his arms over his chest. “What?”

“I won’t kill innocent lives for your insatiable blood lust, you monster.” Xavier stood in front of the young woman like a shield.

Val tried to run forward to stop his brother from making a mistake, but someone’s arms wrapped around him and a voice whispered, “Don’t, you idiot. Or you’ll end up like him.” He still struggled, but to no avail.

The Wendigo’s booming, sinister laugh filled the hall. “Very well. Guards, take this insolent boy and his wench he champions so passionately to the keep. They’ll make a fine meal for the coming feast.”

And just like that, Val’s brother had been sentenced to satiate the clan leader’s hunger. It’s easy to rule the land when you’re a cannibal.

***

That was over a day ago. Now, Val rode his horse as fast as it could go, dashing through bramble, over cold, hard ground and jumping over fallen trees. He knew where he had to go to find saviors that would take on someone as insane as the Wendigo.

In just under 48 hours, he’d made it to the Isle of Exile, where all those who’d made minor transgressions against the Wendigo were sent to live out the rest of their lives, cut off from the clan. Even a cannibal couldn’t eat everyone. Things like petty theft or accidentally spilling his evening wine on him weren’t met with a death sentence. They just got kicked out of their family’s homelands for as long as they lived.

Val arrived in the Isle just before that night’s sun set. He’d known the way because Xavier had taken him along for his assignments several times. His brother was the one that escorted the exiles to their new residence. Val had a huge task to get their help now.

He stepped down off his horse a few feet out from the makeshift camp’s entrance and walked the rest of the way in. There were no guards blocking his way like back at his village. Getting around them to leave in the dead of night had been a chore.

It appeared he’d arrived just in time for dinner. The people he’d once known as his neighbors and friends and peers stared back at him now with hollow cheeks, scraggly hair and bent figures. Life outside of the clan was a hard one. They eyed him suspiciously as he made his way to the main hut on the other side of the camp.

Val’s palms began to sweat as he approached the hut. Before he could gather the courage to step inside, a tall, dark man came out first. He looked down at Val, surprised to see the little brother of a clansmen standing at his feet.

“Hi, Yomi. Long time no see.” Val gave a pathetic, nervous chuckle.

Yomi rolled his eyes and huffed. “What’re you doing here?” He looked beyond Val, eyes scanning the scene. “And without Xavier.”

“We need to talk.” Val meant business now.

“We,” he made a show of indicating his fellow exiles, “don’t owe you anything. You turned your back on us.”

“And I’m sorry about that. We were scared. But I’m here now, and I know it’s asking a lot, but I need your help.”

Yomi threw his head back in laughter. “Hear that, everyone? Val of house Zoraida is asking for our help.”

Several former clansmen hanging around laughed alongside their informal leader. “Kid, you got a lot of nerve.”

“Listen, Yomi. You know Xavier was only following orders. You know what the Wendigo is capable of.”

“I know damn well what he’s capable of,” Yomi snarled while pointing at the empty socket where his eye once was.

Val swallowed hard but forged on. “Well, Xavier did something stupid. He defied orders, and as a soldier of the Wendigo’s army, you know what that means.”

Yomi stepped back and raised his eyebrows. “Did he now? Well, hope the Wendigo likes his meat tough, ’cause that soldier isn’t going down easy.” He let out a loud guffaw and his peers followed suit.

“C’mon Yomi. We can’t just let him become the Wendigo’s dinner.”

“We aren’t your clansmen anymore, remember?”

“You were once.” Val stood his ground and never broke eye contact.

Yomi stared him down. “Why take the risk now? We got off easy. We’re safe.”

“No one will ever be safe as long as the Wendigo is in charge and you know that.”

“Not my problem anymore.” Yomi turned to walk away from Val, but Val put a hand out to stop him.

“You once told me family can be called on any time. I’m calling on you now.” His uncle stood at least a foot taller than him, but Val would not be intimidated.

Yomi furrowed his brows. “I called on you when I was exiled. Where were you and your brother then?”

Val dropped his head and whispered, “Scared kids trying not to die.”

They were at a standstill now. Val looked up at his uncle again. “Look, I know we let you down. And I’m the last person you ever wanted to see again. I get that saving Xavier means saving the man who brought you into exile in the first place. But that’s the point. This cycle never ends as long as the Wendigo rules. It was house Zoraida first. Then it’ll be another house. Another brother betraying his brother for safety. Don’t you get it? The system will keep going until it’s cut off.”

“And we’re the ones to cut it off, huh?” Yomi shook his head. “Even if I could get some of the guys here to rally, the Wendigo’s got an army. An army your brother was part of. How would we even overcome that force?”

“We probably don’t. We’ll likely die before saving Xavier. But aren’t you the one who said it’s better to die in stupid bravery than live in smart cowardice?”

Yomi gave his nephew a grin a mile wide. “So, Valiant finally lives up to his name. Why the sudden change of heart?”

“He’s got Xavier, uncle.”

“No. No, it’s more than that. What else has the Wendigo got?”

Val hesitated but decided to tell the whole truth. “Xavier refused to kill a woman’s children for the Wendigo. He took my brother and the woman as his prisoners to prepare them for his festival feast.”

“And who’s the woman and children?”

“My wife, Esther, and my kids. My family.”

“So the Wendigo’s got your wife and brother and wanted to kill your progeny. Yeah, that’ll change any man’s heart.”

“So, when do we start?” Val waited for his uncle to process the news.

“Give me tonight to gather our fighters and supplies. We’ll leave at dawn just you and me if we have to.”

Val nodded. “Thank you, uncle.”

Yomi patted his nephew’s shoulder. “We’re in for a long shot, kid.”

“It’s the only shot. We take what we get.”

***

Val barely slept or ate that night. He gave up on rest as the first rays of dawn broke and got up to get his horse ready to leave. It looked like it was just going to be him and his uncle Yomi.

As he gulped down some bland oats and water, Yomi approached with a band of the roughest looking clansmen he’d ever seen. “Well, here’s your army, Val. The men and women who will take on your suicidal mission.”

Val pulled his pack onto his back and ran a hand through his hair. “Seven guys.”

Two of the group cleared their throats and glared at him. “Five guys and two women,” Val amended. “Yep, we’re gonna die.”

“Now hold on,” Yomi said, “don’t be so quick to dismiss them. These clansmen were once your people too. And you remember the twins of house Balgar.”

Two identical men stepped forward and smiled at him. “How’s it going, Prince Valiant?”

Val rolled his eyes. “Yeah I remember they used to follow me home after school and beat me up.”

“Exactly.” Yomi clapped his hands together. “You know we’ve got brute strength in them. And there’s Calista. She’s always been an expert marksman—excuse me, markswoman. And we can’t go wrong with our resident pyromaniac, Dumar.”

His uncle went around reintroducing each face Val had once known when he was a child. These weren’t exactly the clansmen he was hoping to get on his side. They’d all been criminals and bullies even before the Wendigo came to town. Maybe it took bad guys to fight against a really, really bad guy.

“Hey, you said it yourself. We take what we get.” Yomi shrugged.

Val sighed. “Okay, let’s go team.”

They gathered in a circle and went over the plan of attack, Yomi making diagrams in the dirt and in turn making sure each team member knew their role. Val’s role was simple: the idiot brother calling out the Wendigo in defense of his family.

As they approached the guarded gates of the village, Val gave his uncle a stiff nod. He charged forward and made sure the guards caught him. “Come out, you fat coward. Come out and fight me if you’re a real clan chief.”

He struggled against the guards as they dragged him to the prison where his brother and wife resided. At least, he hoped they were still there.

Val’s plan was not in vain. He saw his family in the cells as the guards brought him in. Xavier ran forward and hissed, “Val you idiot, what’re you doing here?”

“Don’t worry, Xavier, I’m gonna save you,” he whispered back.

Xavier gave him a puzzled look.

“Just wait. You’ll see.”

His brother shook his head and muttered curses in their native tongue under his breath. Val ignored them and turned to his wife. “Esther, my love, are you alright?”

She nodded. “Val how could you be so foolish? Our children.” Esther’s voice gave out in anguish.

“Don’t worry, my love. They’ll be fine. I promise. We’re going to make things right.”

His two fellow prisoners said in unison, “We?”

Val nodded. He made sure the guards weren’t listening. “Uncle Yomi,” he said softly to his brother.

Xavier’s eyes widened and then blurred with tears. “Is he–? I mean, does he still–?”

“He’s family,” Val broke in to his brother’s confounded rambling. “We can always call on family.”

“So how are you helping if you’re in here?”

Before Val could answer, a commotion took place outside and the guards ran to find the source. “Show time,” he said to his brother and wife. “Stay down.”

They did as he told them and before they knew it the temperature in the prison seemed to rise. Overhead, light began to break through the ceiling shafts. A fire was burning through the roof.

A hole big enough to fit a person appeared and Dumar poked his head in. “Time to go.” He threw down a rope before Xavier and Esther could ask questions. They took it one at a time, Esther first, then Xavier and then Val.

They stood in confusion on the roof of the slow burning prison. “Dumar?” Esther was incredulous.

He winked at her. “Long time no see, eh, sweetheart?”

Val raised an eyebrow in question to his wife. She only blushed and looked down.

“We better get going. This roof won’t hold our weight for much longer,” Dumar broke in.

The group scrambled to find their footing and shimmy down another rope hanging over the north wall. Before Xavier and Esther could ask more questions, Val put up a hand to halt them. “Look, my first concern right now is getting you to safety.”

“I know you don’t mean me,” his brother interjected. “I’m gonna fight. Where’s the army’s position?”

Val made a face. “No army, brother. Just a bunch of rogues willing to die for a fight.”

“Good enough. I’m in.” Xavier crossed his arms over his chest the way he always did to indicate the end of an argument.

Val rolled his eyes. “Fine. But Esther, I’m going to take you to the children.”

She nodded. “Yes, please. I need to make sure they’re alright.”

Dumar took Xavier with him to the rendezvous point while Val led Esther away from the fray, into a secluded spot in the woods. There, they found their three kids huddled together around a village elder. “Thank the gods,” Esther cried.

“Okay, my love. I’ll leave you in good hands. I’ll be back when it’s over.”

She grabbed her husband’s hand. “Valiant, don’t go. Please. You’ll die.”

He tried to make light of it. “You have such little faith in me?”

“Val, you know what the Wendigo is capable of. What if you fail? What will become of us?”

“I’ve already arranged for an escape for you and the children if we don’t win this fight.”

“An escape for us, you mean.” She trembled.

Val shook his head. “No, my love. If we lose, I will die. I have no delusions of that.”

“Then why fight?”

“For all of you. For us. It’s time to fight for our right to live free from fear, even if it means death.”

“I can’t do this, Val. I can’t watch you go.”

“You must, my love. I’ll do my best to get back to you, but if I don’t, tell the children how much I love them. Always remember that.”

With that, he kissed her forehead and ran off into battle. Val wasn’t a soldier like his brother, but he was clever. He set traps that would slow down the enemy and help his team make headway to getting to the real threat: The Wendigo.

The fight seemed to go on forever, and somehow his rag tag group of miscreants managed to survive and take out a good chunk of the Wendigo’s soldiers. When a path was finally cleared, Xavier and Val made their way to the chief’s hall.

As expected he was well guarded, but Val had devised a plan to distract them. He nodded to Xavier and vanished to a shadowed corner while Xavier slowly made his way through the hall into the throne room.

In a few minutes, he heard a huge clang and saw the guards rush to the noise. Of course, one guard remained behind to protect the Wendigo, but Xavier wasn’t worried about him. He was a skilled enough soldier to take down one guard.

The Wendigo sat comfortably in his throne, his face placid but his eyes feverish and scanning the room back and forth. Like a panther in the jungle, Xavier jumped from atop a column he’d been hiding on and hit the guard directly on the back of the head with the hilt of his blade.

The guard went down in one stroke and the Wendigo rushed toward Xavier. The Wendigo tackled him to the ground and pinned him with the sheer weight of his body. Xavier struggled, losing air, but managed to hit his adversary just below the ribs, giving him a chance to escape and regain ground.

“So, you managed to escape. Had friends to help too, I see.” The Wendigo taunted Xavier.

“Guess I’m not the only one sick of you.” Xavier lunged forward and thrust his blade out but the Wendigo sidestepped him.

He didn’t get thrown off balance though. The Wendigo only got the chance of that once, and he already took it. Instead, Xavier bided his time, parrying and thrusting, getting a feel for the Wendigo’s movements and thought patterns.

“This game grows tiresome,” boomed the Wendigo’s voice.

“Then let’s end it,” snarled Xavier.

At that moment, Val came rushing in with his band of bad guys ready to ambush the Wendigo. Dumar and Calista double teamed to send flaming arrows at the Wendigo’s head, but even for such a large man, he moved swiftly, and escaped the attempts.

In came the Balgar twins pitting their size and strength against the Wendigo’s. The move was a minor success, as it made the cannibal stumble, teeter and totter. They pummeled him with their big, meaty fists and forced the Wendigo to retreat. Meanwhile, Xavier launched another sword attack, but the Wendigo regained his stance.

He knocked the twins off him and blocked Xavier’s sword with a metal staff he’d grabbed from a nearby post. With it he knocked Xavier back with a blow to the stomach. He brought the rod high over his head, angled down and ready to thrust it into Xavier’s back.

“Stop!” An unexpected cry from the hall’s doorway rang clear and made everyone halt in their tracks. Esther walked in, steady, hands up in surrender. “This is madness. You’ll never win. You’ll only die. Just give up.”

Val stared, mouth agape. Esther passed right next to him and gave him a look of deep sorrow. “I’m sorry, Valiant. I can’t let you die.” She stepped forward in front of Xavier, right in the path of the Wendigo’s rod. Val stood rooted to the spot, unable to believe what he was seeing.

She bent down on both knees, head bowed and began muttering an old prayer of forgiveness, as if she worshipped the Wendigo as a god. “Please, have mercy. Forgive them. Forgive us.”

The Wendigo lowered his arms and put the rod at his side, a sneer on his face. “Your woman pleads on your behalf. How Valiant can you be?”

As the Wendigo looked away from Esther, she raised her head and hands and threw a powder into his face, then dove to the side yelling, “Now!”

The Wendigo stumbled back, his hands clawing at his face. Calista knocked an arrow, drew the string back, and let her weapon loose. It soared in an arc in slow motion as it found its mark true, straight into the Wendigo’s chest.

Suddenly the substance on his face was of no concern. He dropped his hands, looking out at the rogues who’d defied him, eyes wide. A bubble of blood burst from his lips, and with that he fell to his knees, his hands searching for the wound on his chest. It was a fatal hit, straight to the heart. He keeled forward, face first into the ground, and not a single muscle stirred.

The weight of the Wendigo’s girth falling to the earth caused a rumble that everyone felt. The fighting din outside dulled and slowed until it stopped all at once. Dozens of soldiers flooded in to see what had happened and found their leader dead.

Some fell to their knees, their arms raised in praise for their freedom. Others immediately fled the scene, knowing well what their fellow clansmen would do to the Wendigo’s sympathizers. Val stepped toward Esther who was still laying across the floor on her side. He reached down and helped her to her feet. “How did you–?”

“You’re not the only hero in the family, Valiant.” She smirked.

Val grinned back and pulled her into a tight embrace. “My love, you were brilliant.”

“Did you have such little faith in me?”

“Never for a second.”

“Liar.”

He laughed and kissed her.

Celebration ensued for the rest of that night and well into the next day. All exiles were welcomed back and given the chance to start anew under the rule of a council made up of the leaders of the rogues who had saved the clan. The unlikely heroes of the day were named official protectors of the village and honored with an annual feast day from then on out.

Meagan Reads Classics: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

As part of the 26 book reading challenge I’ve been participating in for about a year now (I’m such a slow reader these days), I chose to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for the category “a book that’s over 10 years old.”

A quick summary of the novel: Jane Eyre is an orphan growing up in her aunt’s household, but she is not treated as part of the family. She’s sent to a boarding school for what’s considered charity cases, like Jane, where she learns to adhere to strict conduct, but does find some friends along the way. She grows up to be well educated and goes on to become a governess in a wealthy man’s estate, teaching and caring for his young ward, Adele.

Over the course of her time there, Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester–the master of the estate–falls in love with Jane, and she with him. They are set to be married except she finds out a terrible secret that sets her running away from the house and she leaves to be independent.

Let’s start from the top and talk about Jane’s cousin John Reed. Man, this kid is a real jerk of the worst kind. He’s entitled and violent and basically the epitome of what the patriarchy stands for. So much so, his own mother, Jane’s Aunt Reed, makes excuses for his violent outbursts and rude behavior. Yes, dear aunt Reed places blame on Jane, saying she brings John’s anger upon herself by being such a weirdo, hiding in the curtains and spending her days reading instead of being joyful and smiling and dignified like a young lady should be.

I’m sure this sounds like a similar story many of you out there have experienced or heard before. That’s because it is. It’s the story that continues to this day, right down to the highest powers that be in our own country. When women don’t behave the way the patriarchal society expects them to, it’s their fault men get mad and lose control. Wow, and this book was written 200 years ago. What a world.

When we find the Reeds and Jane engaging in a skirmish, as Jane hits John for trying to hit and hurt her, Aunt Reed punishes Jane by leaving her in the red room, as the tenants of the house call it. It’s her late Uncle Reed’s room where he was said to have passed and still haunt. And Jane is absolutely terrified to be left alone in the dark in that room. So much so, she throws a huge scene, screaming, sobbing and begging to be let out. She makes promises of becoming a better child if only they’ll let her out. Her Aunt Reed takes the hysterics to be nothing but a brat trying to get her way. Jane sees an apparition, or so it seems from her description, and she’s so scared she faints.

After this episode, this is basically when Aunt Reed says it’s the last straw and sends her away to Lowood Hall, a boarding school for wayward orphan charity cases. Here, Jane must adhere to strict codes and learn to blend in so as not to call attention to herself, except the headmaster has different plans. Having taken her Aunt Reed’s side in things, Mr. Brocklehurst decides to announce to the whole school how Jane is a liar and evil and must be shunned from their society. She is simply there to learn and be out of her aunt’s house.

There’s definitely a Matilda-esque thing going on here. A bully headmaster who has it out for the heroine. In comes Helen Burns, another girl who’s bookish like Jane and befriends her despite the headmaster’s warnings. And the teacher Ms. Temple who is this book’s Ms. Honey.

Ms. Temple let’s Jane explain herself to the students so that they may make up their own minds about her free of Mr. Brocklehurst’s influence. Helen and Jane develop a very close relationship, one like that of sisters, so of course–SPOILER ALERT–it’s heartbreaking when it’s revealed that Helen is dying of consumption.

Despite the tragedy that befalls Jane yet again, having lost her first and only friend she’s ever known, Ms. Temple and the other teachers begin to treat her like an equal among her fellow students. Having the chance to learn in a stress free environment and shown compassion and understanding, she flourishes and becomes an adept student who learns quickly and excels in her studies for the remaining years. She in fact becomes a teacher at Lowood once she turns 18 and has graduated from her courses.

There’s a poignant commentary being made throughout all these goings on that children who are not frightened or abused will eventually go on to become well-adjusted and smart adults. Again, this sounds familiar in our own present day, but the concept of giving kids a chance to be themselves and learn in a safe and comfortable environment is a battle that’s been going on for more than 200 years.

What struck me most about Jane’s growth and change from the time she was a child to the time she became an adult, is that while she kept a fiery and feisty attitude inwardly, outside she portrayed a composed and acceptable persona that would not be looked at twice. She learned to play the game society had set forth for women, and she learned it well. At one point though, it seems she learned it too well. There’s moments when we see Jane struggle with her desire to be true to herself and conform to what would be deemed appropriate for a woman of her station.

Let’s move on to Mr. Rochester. Here’s where things really start to get melodramatic. She goes to work for this man to be a governess to his ward, Adele, who is said to be his illegitimate daughter, but he does not acknowledge her as his kin. Not a complete monster though, he agreed to take her in and have her cared for. Congratulations, Rochester, you’re not as big of a jerk as you could’ve been.

There’s a whole series of shenanigans that ensue with an elite socialite Miss Blanche Ingram, whom Rochester is set to marry, except he doesn’t want to because he knows she only wants him for his money, but he doesn’t want to be a bachelor anymore because he’s already 40 and needs a wife. Enter Jane. His ward’s governess whom he finds charming, intelligent and a worthy partner to match his own mind and character.

Dear sweet, 18-year-old Jane, in turn falls for Mr. Rochester as well. Arrangements are broken off with Ms. Ingram and Jane is now set to marry Mr. Rochester. Except for one tiny little kind of important detail. Mr. Rochester is already married. And his wife lives in the very house they’ve all been residing in this whole time.

A woman named Grace Poole, whom Jane thought the entire time was the culprit in many a mischievous scheme throughout the novel, is in fact Mrs. Rochester’s keeper. Mrs. Rochester, see, is certifiably insane. It’s at the altar just as he and Jane are about to be married that this information comes to light.

Mr. Rochester weaves a tale of woe, betrayal and lies. How he was tricked into marrying this savage Creole monstress (no lies that’s basically how she’s described–not even gonna get into the blatant racism of the times) by his father, brother and her brother, because of keeping the family name honorable by aligning himself with the Mason family. And then how he had to keep his promise because he’s a man of honor, but he refused to acknowledge her as his wife, but he’d keep her and have her cared for. Boy, he’s in the habit of shouldering such heavy burdens. What a saint.

At this point, Jane decides she can’t marry him, because it wouldn’t be right. It doesn’t matter that his wife’s crazy and violent and not really his wife in the sense of the word. She recognizes that Mr. Rochester needed her to rid himself of that woman once and for all. When she refuses to hear his apologies and give him another chance, he threatens violence on her, violence on himself, and then once more pleads forgiveness for his rash behavior, as it’s only because his love for Jane drives him mad with obsession.

Jane struggles to leave Mr. Rochester, as she wants to believe him, and she still loves him, but she knows it’s best to be gone. Wow, it’s unreal how something written two centuries ago can still sound so relevant to our society and relationships today. The manipulation of abusive significant others. The struggle to leave that person behind. And it still continues today. It almost feels like it will always persist.

So, Jane decides to leave in the dead of night, with 20 pounds in her purse and the clothes on her back. Much occurs over the next 36 hours. She ends up in a town with no money and no way to eat, looking for someone who can help her find work and build a new life. Just when she’s on the verge of starvation and fragile as a porcelain doll, she happens on the steps of the Rivers residence. Here, St. John Rivers takes pity and lets her inside to be cared for until she regains strength to tell her story.

Here, Jane tells him and his two sisters the bare bones. She’s gone from the home she’s known for a few years, and has no where else to turn, so she must fend for herself. She only asks a chance to do honest work and help in finding that work. St. John finds her skills useful as his local school house is in need of a head mistress to teach the farmers’ children. Jane takes the job and stays in this town for quite some time.

During that time, St. John takes a liking to her, but eventually finds out the truth of her name, and this is when it’s revealed that another uncle of hers had recently passed away, but before he did he left her with a fortune. Turns out that uncle was also St. John’s and his sisters’ uncle, so that makes the Rivers family her cousins. Oh joy! She finally has a real family she cares for and that cares for her.

Here’s the thing though. St. John is set to take up the life of a missionary, and he wants Jane to marry and accompany him as his wife (yeah let’s not talk about that incest either otherwise this post will go on forever). She says she can accompany him on missionary work, but that she can’t in good conscience be his wife, because she does not love him in that way and he does not love her. He merely is looking for someone to share his life’s work with as a fellow servant to God. Jane’s all for that. Just not as a wife.

Try as he might to convince her that this is the best path she can take, and one in which God has set for her, she will not take the bait. She considers it for a moment, but in the end recognizes there is no romance between them. It would be a marriage of convenience. St. John doesn’t take the no very gracefully and basically gives her the cold shoulder all through his remaining time in their home. Once again, an older man (he’s 30-years-old) tries to tell Jane what’s best for her, and when Jane says she knows what’s best for her, he gets salty.

Fast forwarding to the end when Jane feels a longing to return to Mr. Rochester and find out what happened to him, she ventures back to Thornfield Hall to find it burned down. Turns out the crazy wife took the place out and herself with him. How convenient. Although, Rochester lost a hand and his eyesight in the disaster, so I guess, just desserts?

Jane finds her way back to Mr. Rochester, and he has been humbled by his predicament, living away in the woods as a hermit with only two servants to care for him and Adele sent to a boarding school. Jane is softened by this shell of a man and decides to stay with him and forgives him. He asks her to marry him again, and she agrees to it, because she never stopped loving him.

I had a huge problem with this ending. Jane is deceived by this man who puts too much stock in the good standing of a family name and cherishes the finer things in life. He undergoes a disaster after she’s gone and shut himself away from the world to find himself. Conveniently, he’s no longer legally married because his wife died in the fire she set. And he’s a better man now that he’s known suffering. It was all just too neat and I feel like it negated much of what Jane’s character is, which is a strong, independent woman who always rejected social standings and expectations. In the end though, as I said before, she learned the game too well, and fell for her own facade, I feel.

There’s actually so much more to discuss with this book, but if I keep going on about how Jane is a great teacher for recognizing that all children learn differently and should be given the chance to learn in their own way, or how the two men that claimed to love her really wanted to claim her as property, we’ll be here all night.

Don’t take my cynicism to mean that it’s not a worthwhile read. It’s actually a book I’d recommend to those looking to read more classics. Just know there will be a great deal of frustration with how things played out sometimes.

I Hear You’re Asking All Around

Catching up on my 52 week writing challenge. This story inspired by the prompt “a tragedy that ends in romance.” Enjoy!

WARNING: Profanity ahead! Proceed with caution.

It’s one of those dumb moments we have as kids. Well, not kids, but not adults yet either. Almost though. Old enough to know better, but still young enough to not care.

Donny and I had played a few rounds of beer pong over at the Castillo twins’ house. Just a typical Saturday night out in the middle of nowhere USA. Shooting the shit with friends we’d known since we were in diapers. Downing cans of the cheap shit with chips and salsa. Nothing we hadn’t done before.

At close to two in the morning Donny and I stumbled over to his jeep, giggling like idiots, because we were. Even in the dark I could tell the ground was spinning for me. “Donny, you sure you’re good to drive?” I hiccupped.

“Ah, no worries babe. I’m barely buzzed. Besides, it’s late. Won’t anyone be on the roads. There never is.” He waved a nonchalant hand and beckoned me into the passengers’ seat.

I nodded and jumped in the jeep. He turned the keys in the ignition and leaned in to kiss me. He had the goofiest smile and his breath smelled like beer, but he was my Donny. I grinned and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “C’mon, pendejo. Get me home. I gotta work in the morning.”

He bit his lower lip and leaned in further, his breath on my neck. “You sure you’re ready to go home.”

I pushed him back, laughing. “Yes, Romeo. Time to go home.”

He made a show of sighing and rolling his eyes. I turned the radio up and sang along, off key as always.

The cold night air soothed my feverish, drunk skin. The crunch of dirt road under the jeep’s tires lulled me into dozing off. It was just another stupid, peaceful night, heading home after a bout of nothing special with people we’d seen all the time. Another night taken for granted.

My neck jerked forward and my eyes flew open. I heard Donny yelling, “Fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck…”

My body jostled side to side. I planted my feet, trying desperately to gain control over my body as Donny’s hands struggled back and forth with the steering wheel.

“Donny, what—” The jeep dove over the edge of something and my head banged the dashboard.

I don’t know how long I was out. Maybe only a minute. Maybe longer. Didn’t matter. The feel of cold and wet seeping over my legs woke me. It was dark, but I realized it was water, which meant we’d crashed into a canal.

Groggy at first, but made alert by the rising liquid, I scrambled with my seat belt, struggling to undo it and get out. The clip was stuck and I couldn’t wriggle out of the strap.

I looked over at Donny and found his head leaning against the wheel, blood dripping down his forehead, eyes open and unblinking. Bile rose in my throat but I shut it down.

I reached out a tentative arm, already knowing I’d find no response. “Donny? Donny?” I shook more vigorously then, hoping the motion would shock him back to life. It was useless though.

The water was at my waist now. Everything seemed to spin at warped speed as I shook and kicked and wriggled and screamed. I banged my hands against the dashboard and choked down a sob. Donny was dead and soon I’d be dead too.

Somehow, out there, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, someone heard me and found me. The bright headlights of another car shined into my eyes and I had to raise a hand to block it. “Help!” I managed to squeak out the word.

I couldn’t see who had come into the water for me, but he had strong arms and a Swiss army knife. He cut the stubborn seatbelt and pulled me out so that my legs floated in the water as he dragged me to dry land.

My chest heaved and my whole body convulsed. I barely heard the stranger talking to me, and I mumbled something about my boyfriend. And my name. “Thalia.” My voice came out as a croak. Then I felt my head loll to the side and my eyes closed.

***

When I woke up next, I was in a hospital bed, hooked up to wires and an IV and beeping machines. My nostrils and throat ached. So did my lower back muscles and legs. Everything hurt. I blinked away the bright light of the sun shining through a window.

My mouth felt like I hadn’t had water in…water. That was the last thing I remembered. Rising water. Then someone pulled me out. And Donny…he was gone. Did they pull him out? Did they revive him somehow? I tried not to cry.

“Hey sleepy head.” My mom’s voice, soft and full of worry. I knew that voice. That was the you’re in so much trouble but I’m so glad you’re alive voice. She was all sweetness now, but I’d have it later once I got home and felt up to it.

“Mami, what happened?” I started coughing immediately after speaking. It must’ve been a few days since I’d talked.

“You were in an accident, mija.”

“Donny,” I whispered.

She looked down and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry, baby.” I saw tears fall from her eyes. My mother shedding tears over Donny. Never thought I’d see the day.

I couldn’t stop it now. I let it all out. I cried until I couldn’t breathe and began dry heaving. My mother had to call a nurse to help calm me down.

It went by in a haze. Explaining how they found us. How Donny had died on impact. How I got pulled out and passed out from exhaustion and trauma. How I’d slept for three days in an induced coma. How lucky I was to come out with barely a scratch. How I’d need to do some mild therapy for a couple of months for slipped discs, but other than that, I was fine. How it was okay if I wanted to join the grief group therapy sessions they offered.

I only had one question though. “Who saved me?”

“Oh, it was a local boy. Uriah,” the nurse answered.

I snorted. I didn’t know how I could find anything funny in that moment. The nurse smiled though. “Yes, his mother didn’t do him any favors with that name.”

“But how—” I couldn’t finish the question because another round of coughs started but the nurse supplied the answer anyway.

“He happened to be driving down that way after a late shift working here. He’s doing his clinicals with Dr. Vega.”

I shook my head. Unbelievably lucky.

Knowing that my savior worked in this very hospital I resided in, I spent the next week asking for him at every turn. I wanted to properly thank him. As luck would have it, no one ever quite knew where to find him when I was awake or walking out and about.

I’d just about given up on the notion when on my last day, as I pulled on my sweater and prepared to leave my hospital bed behind for the last time, a light knock on the open door startled me. Before me stood a tall, broad young man with a shy smile. “Uh…hi. I heard you’ve been looking for me.”

I sat there, mouth agape. The moment had finally arrived to show my guardian angel my utmost gratitude, and I had nothing to say.

“You are, Thalia, right?” He looked around and over his shoulder as if expecting someone to steer him away any moment.

I finally unfroze. “Yeah, yes. That’s me. I’m Thalia.” I stammered and then laughed. “I’m sorry, I just wasn’t expecting to see you. Uriah, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, It’s just me.

I managed to get up from the bed, a little wobbly at first, but able to take a step forward. “I just. I wanted to say—actually, I’m not sure what I want to say. How do I say thank you for saving my life?”

“Well, I guess you just kinda did.” He chuckled.

“It doesn’t seem like enough.” My voice was barely audible.

He shrugged again. “It’s okay. I mean, it was just dumb luck. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

I shook my head. “Yeah, but I mean. I’m alive because of you. No one would have—could have found me, but you did.” We stared at each other in silence for a minute. “I’m sorry, it’s still hard to wrap my head around it all. I’ve been looking for you for a week just to say thank you and now I’m just sounding like an idiot.”

We both laughed. I took another step forward and reached out a hand. “How about a proper introduction. Hi, I’m Thalia.”

He took my hand and shook it. “I’m Uriah. It’s a pleasure.”

“Listen, hospital food sucks, so if you’ve got time, can I at least buy you lunch.” I felt my cheeks go warm, but I didn’t care if it seemed forward. I just wanted to know this guy that had saved me.

He looked down with his hands in his pockets now. “I’m actually off all day. I just came by to find you before you left. So yeah, I could go for lunch.”

I grinned a mile wide. “Good, because I’m starving for some real food and I’ve been dying for some ropa vieja.”

He tilted his head. “Ro—what?”

I let roar a big laugh. “Ropa vieja. It means old clothes in Spanish.”

He raised an eyebrow. “That’s an odd thing to crave.”

I shook my head. “That’s the literal translation. It’s really just shredded beef. Delicious. C’mon, I’ll buy you your first plate.”

He smiled and held out an arm. “Lead the way.”

I bought Uriah his first taste of good Cuban food that day. I hadn’t forgotten Donny. I never could. Donny was gone though, and in time, it would be okay for me to move on. This lunch with the guy that saved my life, it was a start at going forward and learning from my mistakes.

Stepped Out of the Line

Here’s another piece for the 52 week writing challenge I’ve been working on. This prompt was “a romance that ends in tragedy.” I was (unfortunately) inspired by current events and other pieces of fiction that all too well mirror our reality.

Summer break was always my favorite. I’d get to come home from college and spend my days working part-time and nights with my girl. She loved horror movies, so every Friday was our Fright Night. From Paranormal Activity to classics like The Shining.

I’d fill a bucket with buttered popcorn (extra salt for her), and a box of malted milk balls for me. Cuddled down on the couch in our fuzzy blanket, the lights all off and nothing but the glow of the screen, it was heaven.

More often than not I’d end up asleep within half an hour and jolted awake by her jumping or gasping or straight up screaming. She’d grab my hand under the blanket and I’d kiss the top of her head, assuring her she was safe from the creepy children.

We’d fall asleep together on that couch, letting the TV glow behind our eyelids. The warmth of her skin touching mine felt safe and like home. Nothing could be better.

Then, our lives turned into a horror movie, and suddenly, they weren’t so fun anymore. It started small at first. The news story about kids being denied the right to use a bathroom because of their gender (or rather, because of their chosen gender that went against everything teachers and parents knew). Then there was the reversal of equal marriage rights.

After I graduated from college, I came back home to live with my girlfriend. We laid on the couch and watched the evening news. Safe, under our blanket, but no popcorn and malted milk balls. Only tissues and a cell phone at hand. She’d squeeze my hand under the blanket and I’d kiss the top of her head to let her know we were still there, together.

It happened fast and slow at the same time when they came for us. They burst into our living room while we had the TV going, screaming inaudible things behind thick, plastic masks and big shiny guns. My girlfriend trembled in my arms as they shouted at us to separate. I held on tighter.

My seemingly innocent action, performed out of terror, antagonized them, and they grabbed my girlfriend by her hair, dragging her down off the couch and across the floor. She screamed and I screamed, but the butt of a gun came down on my head and then all was black.

I woke up on the cold, hard wet floor of a jail cell, with only a single flickering light over the toilet in the corner. Silence all around me as I licked my parched lips. My girlfriend nowhere in sight. Where had they taken her? Who had taken her? But I knew who they were already.

The media called them extremists. Mostly men, but some women too, who hunted for “abominations” as they called us, dragged us out of our homes onto our front lawns and beat and torture us brutally while neighbors watched behind safe curtains.

One day, those extremists were not only wearing the faces of our bosses, friends and family, but of those sworn to protect and serve. The extremists began wearing the faces of government officials, community leaders and influential citizens. All to keep us in line. To keep us safe. To save us from ourselves.

Day in and day out, for God knows how long, I spent in this jail cell, never seeing sunlight or another face. A face behind a mask reached a gloved hand through an opening in the cell door to put a glass of water and crust of bread daily on my floor. I grew gaunt and weak, but still longed for my girlfriend, so I never stopped asking where they’d taken her. If she was still alive.

Eventually, someone opened the cell door and grabbed my arm. I barely had energy, but I resisted as much as I could. It seemed to annoy them enough to get a growled, “You wanted to see her, didn’t you?”

I stopped. They were taking me to my girlfriend. She still lived.

A few feet down the hall, a left through another door and three doors between that, we stopped and I was thrown into a bright, white room filled with light. I cringed at the rays from the light bulbs. I hadn’t seen light in so long.

It was empty at first, but soon, another door from the other side opened, and in stepped Stephanie. She looked clean, put together and unharmed. Her face was somber though.

I asked her how she was. Where she’d been this whole time. How she managed to escape the torture. What deal did she make. When she didn’t answer right away, I reached my hands toward hers and she jerked away. Then she said the three words that shattered my world. “Just give up.”

Tears threatened to spill over my eyes, but I held back. I didn’t understand. Give up what? Give up why? Give up how?

She finally brought her gaze to mine. “Let me go. Let us go. It’s the only way to be safe.”

But I love you, was all I could think, and I could see her reading my mind.

She shook her head slightly, warning me not to say it out loud. “I don’t love you like that, Mariah. I never did. I was wrong. We were wrong. Now it’s time to make things right.”

Now the tears did spill. They’d scared her so bad she lost all her fight. All her love. They terrified her into forgetting nights spent on the couch screaming at scary movies, munching on popcorn and hands squeezing under a blanket.

I shook my head at her now. “No, no you don’t mean that.”

The guards shifted in their corners. She glared at me. “Step in line, Mariah.”

I set my face to stone and breathed in deep. “Never.”

At this, the guards walked past her and grabbed me by both arms. She didn’t look up once, so I didn’t bother looking back.

They took her love. They took my love. They’d now take the rest of me, to mold and change me into an upstanding citizen. They’d try to put me back in line. I never could walk straight though.