• Lincoln Watched

    Lincoln Watched | LenaStark.com

    The order sat on her desk, waiting to be signed into law. This could cost me my second term, she thought. But then, half of the other bills that had passed across her desk had been equally likely to result in a one-term presidency: health care, military funding, tax reform.

    Today it was immigration, and this one she wrestled with. The world is a dangerous place. In case the American people hadn’t noticed that, the speaker of the house was explaining it on television, reminding everyone of the possibility of terrorist attacks as though they had forgotten. She didn’t need to watch it to know what he was saying. Besides, that’s what aides were for.

    She twirled the smooth wood-barreled pen in her hand, rubbing her fingers across the cool cherry. Her father had hand made that pen and given it to her as a gift when she won her very first election to the state legislature all those years ago. She had replaced the ink many times. It had gone with her everywhere she went, reminding her of where she came from. It had done that job well, and it was doing so again now.

    Deny all refugee applications for the next five years, it said. How could both the House and then Senate have passed this? Well, it wasn’t too hard to see, really. People were afraid, and scared people lash out or close ranks. Last year’s bombings had been one-offs, proving the theoretical sleeper-cell spectre was, in fact, a reality. The crashing buildings, mangled people, and dust-covered rescues had been replaying constantly since last June. People were afraid.

    The world is a dangerous place. She had grown up hearing this from her own parents, but for them it meant something entirely different. The danger wasn’t coming to into their homes and lives and country. It was already there, shooting their men, raping their women, starving their children until only death remained, until the peril had overwhelmed them and everything became subservient to one purpose: escape. They would have done anything. Anything at all. Something, anything, anywhere, from anyone – death unknown became preferable to death certain.

    When she was young, her parents hadn’t talked about the refugee camp they spent nine years in before they finally made it to the United States where she was born; but as she grew older and her parents accumulated some money, they began to return every couple of years to the camp to visit. Aunts, uncles, cousins – all stuck there for years and decades, trailing on.

    Their relatives planned camp weddings to other refugees around her family’s visits. Her mother visited her older brother’s grave when they returned. He had been born there and died there. An entire, short life lived in squalor, disease, and uncertainty. He was six. There were no photos, but Maman said he was beautiful.

    The world is a dangerous place. It was true, of course. But how could she sign her own name to a document that would damn people, people like her own parents, back to the hell they were trying to flee? How could she not sign something that might protect people, the very people who had taken her family in and given them a life, from having their own lives turned into that same hell?

    Both houses of Congress had already passed the bill. It would become law whether she signed or not, and from there the courts would have to decide what to do with it. She could just do nothing.

    She dropped her pen on the burnished, Resolute desk and looked around the room. Her room. Her office. Abraham Lincoln eyed her from the far wall, reminding her that human suffering was always worth fighting for even if the cost isn’t just your presidency but your life.

    The portrait of the earth rise taken from the Apollo 8 mission spoke to her of world reborn with every new day. What would that world look like? What did she want it to look like? What could she do to move it along toward that vision?

    She picked up the snapshot of her parents beside her on the desk, smiling but separated from her behind glass and gilt. She wished, as she often did, that they were here to talk things over with. Six years now had passed since the car accident, but the loss never really went away.

    It wasn’t so much the loss of her past, though she did still find herself thinking of things she wished she had asked them. No, it was the loss of the future that still pained her. What would they say about this bill? What would her mother think if she denied safety to desperate people? What would her father say if she denied the protection of safety to those who already had it?

    And that was really it. How could she turn away people dying at her door, begging to be let in?

    “Send in Gerald,” she buzzed to the secretary in the outer office. She needed her Chief of Staff to arrange a press conference of her own. She was not going to sign this bill. She was going to take a trip, a tour of the three camps worldwide that generate the most refugee applications.

    The world is a dangerous place. And in many places, home is infinitely more dangerous than home is here. We have resources. We can protect both ourselves and those who come to us in need, and we will. It needn’t be either/or, nor should it be.

    That was her new world – both protection and kindness. Safety with generosity. She looked again at her parents, her earth rise, her Lincoln, and what she saw was herself, the child of two worlds, uniter of peoples. From the corner, Lincoln watched.

  • The Song of the Almighty

    The Song of the Almighty | LenaStark.com

    The clouds overhead deepened, and as the rain began, Sigge knew thunder and lightning would follow. She had to move. The air would soon be filled with ribbons of light flying down from the sky, each searching for a target, each strike setting a new blaze along the parched valley floor.

    The dry leaves and tiny bones of small, dead creatures crunched under her feet as she ran, eyes darting back and forth, hear and there, to and fro. She had to find a cave. This rocky ground always had a cave. The forest was too far to the north to reach before the storm began, and with the dry season stretching on for so long this year, it was only tinder anyway.

    The rain died down wind began its climb from breeze to gale, sweeping around her ears, tossing about her hair, kicking up the sand. The first rumble of thunder echoed across the plain. It was coming.

    What had she been thinking? What on earth had made her think that escaping her master’s hold under cover of an electrical storm was a good idea? At least he provided shelter, crumbling as it was. In another two minutes, she was going to be in the thick of thirty strikes a minute.

    No caves. Sigge stopped and looked around her. In her panic, she had been running straight through the middle of the plain. Of course no caves were appearing. Caves are in the cliffs, which ringed the plain and were now much too far away.

    She was going to die out here; and as soon as the lightning cleared, the carrion birds would strip her flesh clean. By morning she would just be another pile of crunchy bones for the next poor runaway slave to crush beneath her feet.

    The lightning was nearly upon her, firing up the inky night with its crackling dance and the terrifying drum beat that followed. Sigge closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then another and another, watching the lightning trails streak along the back of her eyelids. Then she sat down on the barren ground and crossed her legs. She waited

    This was better. It was not the freedom she had hoped for, but it was freedom nonetheless. Her skin began to tingle with the electricity in the air, and she stretched her fingers out before herself. These were the lined, broken hands of an old woman, hands of too much labor and not enough food or rest, hands of a slave. They did not belong on the body of a twenty-six year old; they should not belong to her.

    The lightning was coming for her, and that was ok. The charged air prickled along her back, over the barely scabbed stripes from last week’s lash and over the older scars from the lashings stretching back years before that. No more of that for Sigge. Yes, this was better.

    Her arms, too, remembered the children she had held over the years; and again they ached. The weight of the tiny one who had died on Sigge’s back because the master had insisted she tend his field instead of her withering child hung on her body like an anchor. “Hope” Sigge had named her, but her own hope had died that day. Today she would see her again.

    Beneath the thunder, another song began to ring. Sigge had heard stories of the sand that sings in high wind. The grains rub together and make music. Quietly at first and then growing stronger, the airy, woodwind sound of the sand song hung above the low pound of the thunder. Sigge sat in the seat of music itself. The very earth and sky mourned for her and sang her into glory.

    Yes, this was better. She would not die from another’s whim or cruelty. She would not perish in agony and despair. She would pass from life in music and awe. And love. This moment, this riot of sand and spark and song glowed for her alone, and she knew it for what it was. It was the voice of the Almighty saying, “I love you, and I’m bringing you home to me.”

    And then the lightning struck.

  • 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol

    The wet slides down my throat and again I am unsure: wine or blood? The ceiling spins somewhere far above me, and I can’t tell. I think I smell plums, but I don’t taste anything at all.

    Maybe if I concentrate hard I’ll be able to tell. Maybe the spinning will slow long enough that I won’t throw up and obliterate the flavor of the stickiness I feel in the back of my throat. Is that iron? That doesn’t seem good. But it is kind of a warm sweetness. It could be wine. I was drinking wine, wasn’t I?

    Huh. I don’t remember how I got here. Actually, I’m not even sure where here is. Someone was with me. We were together. She? No, that doesn’t seem right. He. Definitely a he. He should be around here somewhere. How long have I been here? Huh. He. That seems right. Where is he? He should be here. Maybe I could roll over and… no, that seems really hard. I’m really tired.

    xxxx

    WHOA! I’m awake. Really, I’m good. Must’ve just dozed off there. Weird dream. All the air in my body was rushing out my pores, and I couldn’t breathe. Actually, it was just like how it feels… ummm… okay, this isn’t so good. I think I’m not doing too good here. Can’t… breathe… too… well. Kind of. Important.

    xxxx

    I’m here! Still here. Wine! It was wine. Really good wine too. 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol. This stuff’s $200 a bottle! How do I know that? I don’t care about wine. 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol. He said that, not me. Why can’t I move. Why can’t I breathe. Where…

    xxxx

    It spins. It spins with fins and wins the pins. The ceiling is blinking.

    xxxx

    He left me here. Four years together and he left me here to die on his kitchen tile. His tile. I hate this floor. My money; his floor. It can’t be. He promised. He promised me he’d… No, he must be hurt. Maybe he’s dead too.

    xxxx

    The sink is running. Dishes! He’s doing dishes! HELP!!! HELP ME!! Did any sound come out? HEEELLLLPPP!!! Can’t you see me?? Oh, please come… Ohh… please… Oh. Oh no. He never does dishes. He hates doing… Oh no.

    xxxx

    Four years. But he… he said… he. no. Four years, and he’s killed me with summer and plums.

    Some days I do a lot of staring. I stare at out the window, at the blank wall, at the cobwebs I should be sweeping off the ceiling. I stare because writing presents too many choices, too many characters and subplots and arcs. Where do I begin today? So, I begin with writing warm-up, like wind-sprints to wake up my brain and remind it to focus. I don’t edit them, and they are often short and non-sensical. Occasionally they are sublime.

    Want to read the first chapter of my book? It’s about a girl who just wants to heal her Dad from his terminal illness and ends up sparking an intergalactic incident instead. (Oops!). Check it out here.

  • The Sword Maiden

    Trinity Art #2 - The Sword Maiden | LenaStark.com
    Trinity Art #2 - The Sword Maiden | LenaStark.com
    I commissioned my daughter Trinity to draw this for me for another small project I was working on and then liked it so much that I wrote a story about it. This is Trinity’s first paid art piece. She was pretty thrilled. So was I.

    Siobhan unwrapped the sword carefully, noting the position of the blade in relation to her fingers. The heft, the cold solidity of the steel, the straight line from pommel to point – all was as she had left it with no chips or imperfections. Once satisfied, she pulled her shield out of the chest on the floor before her and performed the same inspection on it.

    “Don’t follow me,” Nioklas had commanded before kissing her firmly and riding hard into the night. But that was foolishness. She knew it before the darkness had even swallowed him from sight, and she knew that at some point he would likely realize it too.

    Siobhan was a sword maiden. She had sparred Nioklas since they were children. Her sword style was different but equally deadly to his and her horsemanship slightly better. The hour was late, the need now, and none else was nearby to help. The raiders would attack by morn. With the mist they would rise and drench the white, frosty ground with her own red blood, and Nioklas could not rout them alone.

    Even so, Siobhan placed her shield beside her sword on the earthen floor and fidgeted with the strips of worn cloth that had wrapped the sword. Nioklas had told her to stay, and she usually tried to respect his wishes as he tried to respect hers. He would likely be angry if she disobeyed tonight, this most deadly of eves. 

    Deep in the tangled woods behind their lodge, the yip of a fox was followed by the final, harrowing scream of a rabbit before both ended in abrupt silence. Siobhan listened, but only a feathered hush replied. Nioklas’s anger did not matter; his life did. And her life did. And both had a better chance of continuing past tomorrow morning if they fought together instead of being picked off one at a time.

    As she packed her gear and prepared her horse, she finally understood. All those years she had begged for and then insisted upon sword training with her brothers (to her mother’s horror and her father’s amusement), all that time she had spent learning a purposeless skill for a girl destined to domestic life, all the jeers and taunts and lectures – as she paused in the stillness and inhaled the vibrant breath of night, she knew what it had been for.

    She was perfectly fitted for Nioklas: for this night, this hour, this moment. One glance back at the home she loved, one forward towards the inky unknown, and away she rode into the quivering forest with the newfound glow of certainty burning in her heart.