Day 5: Bunny Blavatsky Arrives in New York

Welcome to the 8LW 25 Days of Stories.  Yesterday we learned how Bunny’s camera became magical and today we’ll be meeting Bunny Blavatsky herself, based on the rules from another “Christmas Week Short Story Challenge” — a holiday version of our Friday Writing Sprints — featuring a short story including any or all the following:  New York, Casanova, giraffe, heartbreak, horseback, love, poetry, celebration, faith, velvet, firecracker, and villain.  Extra kudos with sparkles for Christmas references.

So here, courtesy of 8L Michaeline, is today’s story.

1898 train advertisement with a young mother, her husband, children and a family come to meet them in a horse-drawn sleigh. Christmas Greetings is the banner.

Bunny was not quite so comfortable on the train. She could scarcely contain her excitement about moving to the big city. (I found this at The Old Design Shop. http://olddesignshop.com/2012/12/lake-shore-michigan-southern-railway-christmas-ad/)

Bunny Blavatsky Arrives in New York

I don’t recommend arriving in New York for the first time on Christmas Eve. The train is packed with holiday excursionists, the hansom cabs are taken, and there is no room in the inn, no matter how much money you have. And I didn’t have a lot.

And let’s not even talk about the ghosts.

Ah, Christmas Eve, when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is very thin, and the holidays wears everyone’s tempers even thinner. All of the love, the heartbreak, the celebration and the sheer life of the living draws them nearer.

I found a warm drugstore, and was sitting at the counter, slowly drinking my cup of hot coffee, wondering how I was to find a place to stay on Christmas Day, when a drugstore-casanova came in. Oh, he was ready to help me find a place to stay! Such a masher. The ghosts of three poor girls clung to him. They looked like immigrant girls who had caught some sort of consumption.

The poor dears were in love beyond the grave.

A rush of patrons flooded into the store, and a soprano voice from heaven commanded the masher to “Move on out, Dooley. You should be ashamed to break hearts tonight.”

She was a red-headed goddess, and I could see the traces of stage make-up around her eyes. She extended a hand. “Sarah Kelso. You look fresh off the boat!” Continue reading

Day 4: How Bunny’s Camera Became Magical

She saw through the veil, until a curse ripped it away and showed her the terrifying realness of the world. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Miss Cook lived well into her 80s, never looking a day older than she did that Christmas Eve in 1898. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome to the 8LW 25 Days of Stories.  Today we’re continuing with another story, based on the rules from the first year of our annual “Christmas Week Short Story Challenge” — a holiday version of our Friday Writing Sprints — featuring a short story of no more than 500 words including ‘Derbyshire’ and at least three of the following:  Darcy, Rhinoceros, Woolly, Admire, Love, Mine, Villain, VolcanoGhost.  Extra kudos for including more than three, and kudos with sparkles for Christmas references.

So here, courtesy of 8L Michaeline, is today’s story — a holiday ghost story.

The Return of Mr. Glossop

The music room was ready for the seance; the dearly departed Mr. Glossop’s prized rhinoceros head gazed phlegmatically over the scene below. Colonel Black firmly ignored the stuffed beast and gave his cameras a final check. With any luck, they would capture Mr. Glossop’s image, and the all-too-material Mrs. Glossop would fund his society for psychic research. The cameras were primed, and gelatin plates waited below for the cameras’ reloading. Black shivered. Snow was falling again.

Miss Cook drifted in, a cloud of white muslin shod in woolly slippers to ward off the drafts. “I see they have followed my directions perfectly.” She stepped lightly into the magic circle of thirteen chairs and wafted into the club chair at the head of the table.. Black saw her check the mechanism that would lift the table into the air.

“It’s Christmas Eve. You’ll hardly be needing that with the veil so thin,” Black scolded. He’d photographed her phantasms in Liverpool, and he admired her very real abilities. Continue reading

Michaeline: A Nebraska Ghost Story for Japanese Obon

Today is the middle day of Obon, a three-day Japanese holiday honoring the dead. Ghost stories are traditional, because this is often the hottest, stickiest time of year, and the chills you get from spooky thrills are said to feel cool and refreshing.

I live in Japan now, but I grew up in Nebraska, and went to school there. I lived in one of the oldest dorms of my university, but I was in the new wing, which was built in the 1950s. No ghosts there, but we heard about ghost stories in the halls right next door.

Black and white newspaper image of a three story dorm with basement.
The story goes that this was a going to be a haunted residence hall. (Image via NebNewspapers)

The one I remember in particular was told to me in a room that had been converted to a TV room. Every floor had a TV room, which seemed to be a regular room that had been converted to communal viewing.

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Michaeline: Wolves, Past and Present

A friend of mine recently got pregnant, and told me she’s been having nightmares about wolves eating her baby and making her buy another child. It made me stop and think about wolves, and the power they have over our imaginations . . . largely a power that results from story.

Red Riding Hood comes closer to the Wolf disguised as Grandmother
When wolves were a common neighborhood terror. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t think I’ve ever lived in an area where there were wolves; they were never an actual problem, but still, wolves loom large. They are themselves, but they are also a human-made metaphor for things that worry us greatly.

In “Little Red Riding Hood,” the wolf was a predator who ate little girls, as well as grandmothers. There was a moral to the story: don’t talk to strangers, or if you are sick in bed, don’t forget to lock the door.

The wolf as sexual predator was common in pop culture during the first half of the 20th century. Young women would call a problem male a “wolf.” Whistles at attractive young women were called “wolf whistles.” In cartoons, a male character when catching sight of a pretty girl would transform into a wolf . . . eyes bulging, two fingers in the mouth whistling.

Wolves didn’t have to be sexual predators, though. In “The Three Little Pigs,” the wolf was a force of nature . . . huffing and puffing houses down in an attempt to eat the pigs. In this story, the motive is spelled out: the wolf is hungry. So, it’s almost easy to sympathize with the wolf, but the moral of this story is that there are right ways and wrong ways to get a meal, and sliding down the chimney will land a wolf in hot water, not in front of the dining table.

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Michaeline: Saturday, Caturday

Sorry, my writing news is very boring, but the cat news continues to be quite exciting! We saw Millie’s kittens this week!

For regulars of the blog, you may remember that Mama Tabitha (aka Tabby Kate) had four kittens in Auntie Milk’s bathroom on April 16. Three tabbies, one black kitty. Don’t ask me about the sex of any of them; I can’t tell until puberty.

Mama Tabitha had three kittens in 2020 – Large Lars, Medium Millie and Chibi Momoko.

Mama Tabitha next to the screen, Daughter Chibi next to the reed curtain on the porch. In the window is a wind chime greeting card ringing gently in the wind. (E.M. Duskova)

Chibi suddenly got skinny in May, and then showed up at Auntie Milk’s house next door with one baby, an adorable striped thing on May 25. They took up residence in the upstairs landing. The kitten was quite stable on its feet and its eyes were open, so I’m guessing it was about one week old. (Mama Tabitha’s babies also opened their eyes early.)

I kept notes on Millie. She disappeared June first, and then showed up the next day very svelte. But we hadn’t seen her babies . . . the big question for six weeks was: Where are the babies?

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Michaeline: “Cat Person” and Identifying Details

This week, Twitter’s been a-flutter about this Slate article, where a woman realized she’s in a not-very-flattering short story published by the New Yorker. Alexis Nowicki details the facts and feelings of when people she knew texted her to say, “Is this you? Is this your boyfriend?” Read the whole article; there are nuances in there that can’t be captured in a headline or a few tweets.

Cats dressed as humans in an illustration, enjoying a musical evening. Viola, piano, singers, bass violin.
No, not that kind of Cat Persons. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, H..J. Overbeek, 1877)

It’s a running joke in the writing community: “Don’t piss me off, or you’ll wind up in my next novel.” It’s also a truism. Pissed or not, bits and pieces of people we know (and even people we’ve only heard about, as in the Nowicki case) show up in our work.

And they have to! We can’t make nothing from nothing. We need to incorporate little pieces of real life into our stories to make them feel real, even if they are outlandish fiction.

I don’t know about other writers, but I have very little control over what my subconscious throws up. The Girls in the Basement can take a very nice woman with a few quirks, and twist her around to an evil villainess with plans to take over the world. “The quirks make her human and relatable, not pure evil,” my editing mind reasons.

It’s got to feel awkward for the person who is reading a work by a friend, and stumbles upon their own doppleganger. It may even cause lasting discomfort that crosses the border into harm.

“Am I really like that?”

“No, it’s just fiction.”

“But I twiddle my hair just like that, and sometimes eat a sundae instead of lunch. But not every day! Not like that!”

“Yeah, no, but . . . .”

“And I certainly don’t program robots to sabotage people’s mental health! I teach Roombas to clean more efficiently! That’s all I do!”

“It’s fiction . . . .” The writer has no excuses except that she’s a writer, and it seemed like a hilarious idea at the time.

It’s been part of the writing game forever. I read somewhere (I think in one of Jane Austen’s biographies) that Austen would take the details and motivations of a person, then flip their gender, and allow that to change the details radically enough that people didn’t recognize themselves (maybe). It also helped that she wrote anonymously in her lifetime, and she wrote characters that many people can recognize in their own lives (even in the 21st century! I know a Mr. Collins, even though he’s a boring English teacher, not a churchman).

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Michaeline: How I Got Through Saturday

First, remember this: I got through Saturday morning more cheerful than I started, so look forward to a happy ending.

Girl in Hammock, exposing her shift and her calves. She's sleeping, and surrounded by shadowy green leafy shrubs. Her cheeks are flushed. Barefoot.
Keeping cool in the heat of things seems like a very healing idea. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
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Michaeline: Pure indulgence

I’m having a very indulgent week. I made strawberry jam near the beginning of it, and every day since, I’ve had a big slice of buttered toast smeared with jam to go with my breakfast (brunch? lunch?) every day since. I feel so decadent!

Then, the day I had to go to the dentist, I spoiled myself rotten with shopping therapy, even though it was just a final fitting for my mouthguard (no drilling, no scraping, or digging, or prodding – I don’t know why I thought I needed to reward myself). Not one, not two, but three little boxes of plants and flowers from three different shops. I was proud of myself for avoiding shops four and five.

Left box: morning glories, blooming nemophila, blooming white snapdragons, green and white geranium leaves. Middle box: blooming Moody Blues 30 cm. tall phlox, blooming cotton candy pink petunias, button mums and a rose geranium. Right box: tall blooming hot pink snapdragons, shorter blooming light pink snap dragons. All in the trunk of a Toyota Aqua.
Trunk of flowers. Want to know the details? Ask in the comments. E.M. Duskova

And at the last stop of the day, I got ice cream. Loads of ice cream, not just for me but for the whole family. Spoiling myself is great, but spoiling others is also a simple pleasure and indulgence.

Visible: box of chocolate-covered ice creams on a a stick; two pints of Lady Borden ice cream (1 chocolate, 1 vanilla), three double packages of Papiko brand chocolate mini-smoothies, five packages of chocolate ice cream "berries" and two packages of pear ice sherbet "berries". Japanese ice cream.
A basket full of ice cream. I’ll take any questions in the comments below, but I do want to point out, there are five adults in the family, and I intend this to last two weeks. (Although, two adults in the family have no qualms about indulging in ice cream, so good intentions may be lost along the way.) E.M. Duskova
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Michaeline: Juneteenth — and don’t you forget it

Today is Juneteenth, America’s newest federal holiday. (NPR) From what I’ve read, the day is not so much about freedom, as it is about the long, terrible road that enslaved people had to walk to get to freedom, and the struggle to stay in a state of freedom.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Memorable words that helped found a nation, written by an enslaver.

I ran across this excerpt by Clint Smith on The Paris Review Twitter account this morning, and if you haven’t read it, you should. Beautiful writing, and it explains what exactly happened on Juneteenth, and illustrates how it can resonate with Black Americans today. Here’s his tweet. Clint’s excerpt from How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America is set on the Galveston, TX, plantation where enslaved people learned of their freedom in 1865.  

Greedy people who valued pretty dresses and a big house over the lives of fellow human beings stained US history with this atrocity, and too many people just went along with it and let it happen. Lest we forget . . . lest we let it happen again. Let’s remember Juneteenth.

PART TWO:

The contemporary white views in Galveston were pretty outrageous. Flake’s Weekly Bulletin of Galveston (Wednesday morning, July 19, 1865) complained on the front page of being accused of sucking up to the authorities in charge. It’s clear, though, that their sympathies are with the white people and the old system, although they take issue with the rebel leaders who they accuse of leading them into the mess of war and privation.

On page 2 (top of sixth column) of the newspaper, General Granger (who read General Order No. 3 to the enslaved people) is discussed. The paper is concerned that the cotton and corn is good, and the grapes are coming in . . . but if the planters stand firm and don’t hire people from other plantations, the formerly enslaved will have no choice but to work or starve.

“A few months delay would have saved some millions of dollars to the planters in the incoming crops, by securing the promising harvest; and some thousands of lives that the sudden change exposes to all the ills of the hot and sickly season.” Yeah, right. If only General Granger had delayed a few more months (never mind the years that had already passed since the enslaved were freed), I’m sure the planters would have sent the healthy Black people off with a nice percentage of the millions, and wished them well. (No, I do not think that for one moment.)

The parallels to the recent Jan. 6 sedition are striking. The paper cast legal doubt on the proclamation freeing the enslaved. They blame “false teachings of corrupt leaders” for people participating in the secession from the States. The heart (by which I think they mean the paper’s editorial staff and most white Galvestonians) “weeps over the stern necessity that dictates their (the warmongers) humiliation.” Oh, boo-effing-hoo.

But I suppose the editors of the newspaper had to tread that line between pleasing the federal authorities, and living with their neighbors. I’m not excusing them. It’s important to read these expressions of white supremacy. It made me realize just how much the arguments white supremacy puts forth really haven’t changed in all those years.

So when I say we shouldn’t forget, I mean not only what was done, but who was doing it and how. Juneteenth is a day to remember.

(I also recommend historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s excellent article, “What is Juneteenth?” for extra perspective.)

Michaeline: Network of Creativity: Salvador Dali interviewed by Dick Cavett

This morning, a friend of mine shared a Dick Cavett interview with Salvador Dali, and it’s been something to think about, for sure! In the clip, which aired on Feb. 11, 1971 (11 min), Cavett seems to be completely at sea when confronted by Dali’s accent, niche interests and methodology, but 50 years later, Dali’s ideas have become almost mainstream.

For example, Dali talks about the Fibonacci sequence and how it manifests in various natural objects, such as sunflowers, rhino horns and cauliflower, of all things. Cavett asks Dali about Dali’s arrival at a speech in a car filled with cauliflower (I’d like to think it was the beautiful Romanesco cauliflower, which demonstrates fractals so gorgeously), and doesn’t seem to comprehend Dali’s answer.

A graph showing the Fibonacci numbers in terms of squares that are x by x. x = 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.
The Fibonacci sequence can create an elegant spiral. (Jahobr, Wikimedia)
The Fibonacci sequence as illustrated in nature with aloes, sunflowers and a spiral seashell. (Google screenshot)
It's hard to describe this, but think cauliflower, but instead of the smooth, brain-like flowerets, each floweret is like a spiky Christmas tree.
My mother-in-law has grown this veg for me! It’s a member of the cabbage family, and is known variously as Romanesco broccoli, romanesco cauliflower, chou romanesco. Delicious, but smelly — a cabbage-scented limousine is maybe not what you’d want to ride in on a hot summer day. Still, look at those gorgeous fractals! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

We today may be more familiar with the sequence as part of Elsa’s magic in the “Let It Go” song from the Disney animation, Frozen. The lyrics even mention, “My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.”

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