The Grand Plan

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The afternoon alarm rattles the roots of my teeth. I flail for my phone to end the noise, but throwing it across the room isn’t an option. Without that little GPS, the escape plan doesn’t have a prayer of success. My hand brushes across a cut above my eye…the dawn of an ugly scar. Somehow, I managed to fight off last nights’ attacker, but it was the last straw.

The final sign—time to move on.

Years ago, I arrived in the Crescent City for a long weekend. Seduced by a thinly veiled promise of magic, I never left. The quest for a spell to make me like the ancient guardians, immune, immortal, forever beautiful…remains unfulfilled.

Tonight’s the night. It’s been lurking on the horizon. Despite every cell in my body screaming in protest, I’m breaking off this love affair with a city that’s been nothing but pain and heartbreak. The heat and the storms are scary enough. Now, even the monsters need to watch their backs on the street.

The clock ticking in my stuffy apartment echoes the hammering pulse in my ears. One peek through the crooked shutters reveals heat rising from the cobbled streets like roiling fog. I twist damp strands of hair and pin them high off my neck.

Get out now, leave everything behind.

My eyes scan the apartment and land on a mahogany armoire with dangling doors. A flash of color from the top shelf sends me rummaging for jewelry. Natural clumsiness knocks everything else down on my head. Carrying stuff could drag me down, but leaving these masks is a crime. Each one is a piece of local art bought for a specific holiday. Jammed in the back, the blue mask calls my name. I climb over the pile of costumes to grab sapphire beads and tassels. 

Just this one…to remember it all, and hold on to the fringe of my shattered dreams.

 

To be continued…

 

On this day…

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Yesterday, my brand new passport arrived in the mail. A priceless, little blue book—people would kill for it—so many have died for it.

Fifteen years ago, the splendor of a September morning was stolen by tragedy. Every year, this anniversary finds me struggling to balance remembrance and honor.

News channels flood our screens with disturbing images, but what I find most painful are the pictures of celebrities, athletes and others disrespecting America’s flag and National Anthem. I acknowledge that peaceful protest is an integral freedom in our country. They’re exercising their rights. I’m also exercising my right to find that behavior offensive and unacceptable. It has no place on this day.

How to commemorate the fallen, is a personal choice. Once again this year, flags will be lowered. Names will be read. Bells will ring. Tears will be shed. However the hours are spent, the greatest way to honor the fallen is by living each day to its fullest. Whether we share dinner with friends and family, cheer for our favorite teams, dance or sing—we are proving that hate and terror will not win.

On September 11th, and every day, I thank the pilots, soldiers, sailors, and corpsman who serve and protect. I thank police officers, firefighters, first responders, chaplains, K9 officers, and anonymous volunteers who showed up to search for survivors. Every minute of your sacrifice is precious.

To all who defend our freedom, I promise;

I will never stop speaking from my heart,

I will never take my freedom for granted,

I will never forget.

The Soul of Glory – 3

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The sun peeked above the horizon and sped across the ocean to a strip of sand that used to be a beach. One by one, piles of rubble were illuminated on a landscape changed forever in a single, dreadful night.

So bright—so frigid. The Queen struggled to come up from her fog. Where am I? Ringing silence gave way to the rhythmic pulse of rotors in the sky. So many voices. All strangers—swearing and talking about wreckage.

“This one’s ok—those others are junk.” Cameras clicked as three sets of footsteps passed.

Are they talking about me?

“The Osborne fire jumped the road,” One stranger said.

 How bad am I?

“By the grace of God,” A familiar voice answered, “It stopped two blocks away.”

 Why am I lying in sand? The Queen spiraled back into her darkness for hours or days—time stood still, sped and sputtered in a bizarre haze until squealing brakes woke her up again.

Amid strobes and police cars, the bus ground to a halt. A passenger stepped out onto the crumbled highway and walked through the remnants of the marina gate with her hand clamped over her mouth.

“Little girl, how did you get here?” A man barked in a German accent.

“I have ID.”

I know that voice. The Queen fought to wake up. Clara?

The girl whipped around and stared into the wreckage.

“This paperwork looks fake.” The man planted his hands on his hips. “Hello missy, pay attention please.”

“Thought I heard something.” The girl turned back to face him. “Who are you, exactly?”

“Hans, the crane operator. Workers from all over the world are here to clean up this catastrophe.”

“I’m Clara. I have to find my boat.”

“Is that the warmest coat you have?” Hans asked.

“It is today.” The whir of a zipper was followed by Clara’s voice muffled under a scarf. “I’ve searched the news footage…all the video is about the roller coaster in the ocean or the ruined mansions up the highway.”

“Which boat is yours, honey? They all look the same. This…” He waved at piles of ruined watercraft, some upside down and sinking and others torn open like tin cans. “This mess, is why people need to put names on their boats.”

A swipe of her fingers flicked away tears. “Glory.”

“You mean the Queen?” The man pointed south, across the yard. “She’s right there.”

“Where? The girl brushed her hair from her face and took a few steps south.

“Whoa, wait. You can’t walk the lot alone. There’s holes in the sand deeper than you are tall.”

Hans led Clara across the marina, pointing out jagged metal and steering her around craters. “The ocean roared through here.”

“I see someone’s entire kitchen and…” Clara picked up a shattered piano keyboard. “How high was the water?”

“Over your head, maybe over mine.” The man stopped short and pointed to the last boat on the edge of the debris. “Here she is…we’ve blocked her up now, so she wouldn’t roll over, but that boat behind her kept her upright. Bit of a miracle, but a shame, the only marking left on that little one is a tiny dolphin on the stern.”

Clara? A weak voice crackled into the wind.

“I found you.” Clara rested her shaking palm on the white boat.

Am I dead? The touch of familiar fingers, sparked energy that raced through the Queen’s hull. Is it over?

“Yes, it’s over. But you made it, Glory.”

Another man trudged across the lot. “That old girl is built like a tank. She didn’t just make it, she saved the Dragon too, though they left a few scars on each other.” He pointed to the swath of mud cut by seawater. “Right here—this was brink of disaster. The current washed her stern around but the bow, is exactly where I blocked it up.”

“Mr. James.” Clara hugged him with one arm, keeping her right hand on Glory.

“Clara, you shouldn’t be here. But, I know why you came.”

“She’s a survivor, my survivor.” Clara rubbed her hands across dings and scratches in the gel coat. “Can one of you do me a favor, please?”

“If you promise to get back on that bus and go home,” Mr. James said, “I know your parents and they must be worried sick.”

Clara nodded and pulled an American flag out of her coat. It unfurled to a full eight feet long. “Can you hang this? I have zip ties.”

“I’ll do it.” Hans grabbed a step-ladder and climbed to the top. He took the ensign off Glory’s bow and tossed it to Clara. “Hold onto that.”

“This was brand new in September.” Clara rubbed the fabric in her hands. The red and white stripes were shredded to ribbons and tied in knots, but the “Don’t Tread On Me” lettering and serpent were still intact.

“That’s what a hundred mile-per-hour wind does,” Hans said, “Now, where do you want this beauty?”

Clara pointed to the rail above her head. The flag whipped in the wind and she felt Glory’s hull vibrate, as trickles of life lit chrome and stainless steel.

Hans stood back nodded at the massive flag. “That should bump the roller coaster off the news. Unbelievable, in this day and age, nobody saw what happened here. No power, no satellite photos—just a disaster zone.”

I know what happened, Clara. I’ll tell you every detail.

“How will this ever get cleaned up? It’s so…” Clara searched for the right word. “Destroyed.”

“I’m not just cleaning it up. I’m rebuilding—better than new.” Mr. James spread his arms. “This place will be sparkling by Memorial Day.”

“I promise,” Clara whispered, “I’ll go as soon as the bus comes back.”

“Take your time.” Both men stepped away and watched the teenage girl rest her palms and forehead against the hull.

“She always talk to that boat?” Hans mumbled.

“And the boat answers,” Mr. James said, “People thinks she’s nuts, but you and I know she’s not.”

“I knew you’d make it, Glory.” Clara didn’t try to stop her tears this time.

Sshhh, please don’t cry. Your prayers saved me…saved my soul.

 

As the late autumn sun began to set, Clara boarded the bus as promised. She took a long look back at the piles of boats and mountains of debris. Glory sparkled on the edge of the wreckage, her new flag billowing in the wind, her light and life returning and growing brighter by the minute.

“My Glory.” Clara poked the bus driver’s elbow.

“All I saw was a pile of rubble when I dropped you off, but it looks like you sprinkled that ship with glitter.” The bus driver pointed to the red, white and blue in Clara’s hand. “You should frame that little flag.”

Clara slumped down in the seat behind the driver and dropped her face into her hands.

“I know it’s been a nightmare.,” The driver said,  “A bad time for our shore, but if we work together, we’ll come out the other side.”

“Stronger.” Clara nodded.

The bus driver swung the doors shut. “I assume you named her?”

“She kinda’ named herself.”

“Never stop believing.” He smiled into the rearview mirror. “Hold tight, your soul.”

Clara wiped the final tears from her eyes. “It was Glory, who held onto me.”

 

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 Based on the true story of Glory Days…a survivor, my inspiration and a genuine Queen.

To catch up on the talking boats;

Part 1

https://monstersnangels.com/2016/08/15/the-soul-of-glory-1/

Part 2

https://monstersnangels.com/2016/08/17/the-soul-of-glory-2/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soul of Glory – 2

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A frenzy of activity and machinery rousted boats from their slumber like a string of light bulbs flickering on, one at a time.

That was a quick winter, Dragon said.

“What’s the latest?” A man’s familiar voice rang out across the lot.

Dolphin’s Tail woke up. Spring already? Yay, spring!

“The Weather Channel is the only thing on TV,” Another man answered.

A nor’easter maybe? Better Days asked.

“They’re saying Category 3. We’ve been through it before,” The first man shouted back.

Hurricane? All the young boats turned their panic toward the Queen. What do we do?

Calm down everyone—it should blow out to sea, The Queen said, We’ll be fine, as long as we’re together.

“Guys, did you hear?” A truck gunned through the gate, with its driver hollering out the window. “The storm’s turning—rocketing directly at us.”

Something’s wrong, Better Days gasped.

“They’re evacuating the whole island,” The driver said.

Dreadfully wrong. Gusts off the ocean whipped a cloud of salt spray across the Queen’s bow. Clara is praying for me.

 

Within a day, the sound of power tools and storm preparation faded and vanished along with the last evacuees. The beach road was deserted, but the air was far from still.

I know it’s daytime, but I don’t feel one ray of sun, The Queen said to Better Days, If that quaking is the surf, it sounds like a monster beating down a steel door.

There’s always been someone here to watch over us, Better Days’ voice cracked, Tonight, we’re on our own.

White foam exploded through a breach in the sand dune, followed by green water that turned the beach road into a river of debris.

How can we save the little ones? The Queen moaned as shards of shingles and cracked ceramic tile ricocheted off her hull.

The boats braced against the fury of the ocean and none paid attention to the silent encroachment of the bay until they started to float off their blocks. Shrieks of terror joined the howling gale.

Better Days shouted above the wind, They’re sinking!

Dolphin’s Tail, hang on! The Queen screamed in the bedlam.

I’m behind you, The little boat answered, Hooked onto your swim ladder.

Blowing sand assaulted the Queen like a thousand flying needles. I’ve never felt wind this vicious.

Shock waves rolled across the floodwater, heaving asphalt and sand toward the bay. Better Days spun off her blocks and slammed into the Queen.

That felt like an explosion, Better Days said, From the north.

I feel heat to my port side, The Queen’s voice jumped an octave, I must be facing the beach. Ripples spread as a fireball cut through rain and wind. Something’s burning.

Something huge. Dragon shuddered as her fiberglass skin was ripped open under the Queen’s anchor. What’s going to stop that?

Another wall of ocean water swept boats into piles, crushing some instantly, while dragging others sobbing into the lagoon.

A towering wave of mangled roof trusses lifted Better Days up and smashed her into the Queen again.

I have to let go, before I sink you too, Better Days said, I really wanted to see Tahoe.

Don’t you give up! The Queen wailed, I can’t survive alone.

Yes, you can. Clara would be lost without you, Better Days forced her accent over the gale, until the swirling current sucked her away, Hold on for Clara.

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Splintered pilings, and the remainder of the house collided with the Queen’s bow like a knockout punch, bending her steel bow rail, piercing her deck and driving her deeper into the water. One more hit like that and I’m finished. The last of her companion’s tortured pleas were swallowed by claps of thunder—even Clara’s prayers became distant and finally vanished.

 

I must be dying.

Nose down. The battered Queen sighed deep in her hull and shut down her consciousness, driving all her remaining power at one goal. Hold on, with every ounce of strength…hold on.

 

      to be continued…

 

 

To catch up on the talking boats…Soul of Glory- Part 1 – https://monstersnangels.com/2016/08/15/the-soul-of-glory-1/

The Soul of Glory – 1

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      Throughout history, ships have been christened with the names of royal ladies, great leaders and legendary places. Every boat owner experiences the ritual, the excitement, the struggle, and the ultimate joy of finding the right name…or maybe the spirit of that perfect name finds you.

So, just for a few minutes, suspend disbelief and listen to the boats talk…

 

The unwelcome chill of middle October swirled around shuttered bungalows and rattled discarded beach chairs. Lined up like soldiers, boats of all sizes filled gravel parking lots, blocked and secure for another New Jersey winter. They chattered away amongst themselves, like children on the playground.

I want to scream at the top of my lungs! Dolphin’s Tail proclaimed, Nobody’s around to hear us.

For the millionth time, most people don’t hear you anyway, The Dragon answered, Just the littlest kids.

My Clara still hears me. The biggest boat spoke up from the center of the pack. And she’s a teenager now. Last week she said good-bye for the winter and thanked me for taking care of her.

That’s our job, Better Days said, her voice smooth and refined, like the champagne color of her hull. To keep them safe.

I just dread these cold months, Dragon said, Maybe someone can fix my blue stripes while we’re stuck on land? They’re peeling.

You need to sleep, lass, Better Days chimed in, We all do.

I don’t think I can, Dolphin’s Tail moaned, Why can’t it be summer forever?

I want to hear a story. Dragon said, Better Days, you’re the oldest. Why do you have an accent?

My owners are from Ireland. I’ve lived across the Atlantic Ocean, on Lake Michigan and now here in Barnegat Bay. Next year—Lake Tahoe.

Tell us about the boats who used to live here…like Thunderbird, Dragon nagged, Is it true, that she was made completely of wood?

Solid mahogany. Legend has it, that a presidential peace deal was signed on her deck, right there at the end of Dock B, Better Days said, The Queen’s slip.

No wonder there’s a party down there every night, Dolphin said, I want to be the Queen when I grow up.

What else? Dragon asked, I want to hear more.

 I may be the oldest, but I haven’t been here the longest, Better Days said, Ask the Queen.

 Oh, that’s right, Dragon whispered to the grand boat in the center, Why do they call you Queen Mary?

 That’s just Clara’s nickname for me, but I like it, The big white boat answered, I’m not nearly as regal as the real Queen Mary.

 Weren’t you moving to Louisiana? Dragon asked.

My family found a house on Lake Ponchartrain, and then a hurricane destroyed everything, The Queen answered, They were scared enough to abandon the whole plan. Clara told me…

I’m sure it wasn’t that bad, Dolphin’s Tail interrupted, Where’s Thunderbird now?

Cruising the Caribbean, The Queen answered, The true, endless summer.

I’m going there next, Dolphin’s Tail said.

Little Dolphin, The Dragon sighed, Has anyone told you how squeaky your voice is?

She’s still a wee thing, Better Days lilted, Wait until next year.

Next year, Dolphin’s Tail said, I want the Queen to teach me everything she knows—like how to stop when I sense danger.

How did you learn that, actually? The Dragon asked, I managed to slow down, once, to keep from running aground. When we got back to the marina, someone called a mechanic.

That means you did it right, Better Days chuckled.

You learn by being in danger, and having the lives of your passengers in your control, The Queen answered, I’ll teach you. Promise

All winter, I do what, again? Dolphin’s Tail moaned, How do I know when it’s over?

Sleep, Better Days answered.

She means, stop jabbering, Dragon said, The bright sun and warm wind will wake you up.

Good-night, kids. The Queen slipped into silence while the little boat’s chatter dwindled away…

 

to be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the cutting room floor…

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The original prologue for Monsters and Angels…long since rewritten and blended into the story…

Holy men, healers and horn players—unlikely allies in society, yet brothers in the unique glory of Crescent City royalty. Villains, artists and creatures of the night flipped their collars up and bowed their heads to Mother Nature, driven into hiding by rare frost in the Deep South.

All, except one.

Raimond ignored the glare of the bar lights and the bite of the wind. His commanding stride propelled him to a decaying house just past the point where the sidewalk turned dangerously dark.

Dangling gutters and crippled railings blended one home into the next for blocks at a time. He found the decline of the area tragic, yet the beauty remained visible in lace ironwork and stained glass… if one looked past the ruined surface, into the elegant disrepair.

Black doctor’s bag in hand, Raimond rapped an ancient knocker against the warped oak door. Tonight’s mission would be specific, an act of compassion in sharp contrast to the excess and debauchery that made the city famous. This visit served as the first step in his recommitment to an oath taken decades ago; complacency and apathy had derailed him for long enough.

If he was completely honest with himself, his actions were selfish. After all, the endurance of his own kind was directly linked to humanity’s survival. He took a wistful look at the crisp, full moon before he entered the sagging house, once the most glamorous jewel in the neighborhood.

 

How I know it’s enough…

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Father’s Day 2016 was an eerie Sunday…24 hours that I needed to survive without falling apart, and the first Father’s Day since my Dad passed away.

I had questions.

Did I do everything right? Was I strong enough for my Mom and my Brother? My Dad wasn’t perfect…neither am I. Was I a good enough Daughter?

My Dad lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease at 930 pm on April 1st. It wasn’t a surprise, but even if you think you’re prepared, you’re never truly ready to lose a parent. I felt relief, guilt, anger and then nothing at all—a continuous loop of confusion. Every moment since has been a struggle to regain balance…at work, at home, but most importantly in my heart and mind. Writing anything original has been next to impossible…but I feel the fog lifting, a bit.

Work was and is still is, an enormous hurdle. I’ve spent nearly three decades working as a Respiratory Therapist in the Intensive Care Unit, often a tragic place. I’ve seen so much death… but births, I could count those on one hand. Births that didn’t involve CPR and a bad outcome…I count them on one finger. Sounds like a thankless job. Backbreaking work, crappy hours, emotional exhaustion…can the sacrifice possibly be worth enough? The surprising answer is…yes, but not for the paycheck. What you’re told when you’re hired by the hospital is your official job description that covers the technical and physical aspects of shift to shift life…more than enough to be an excellent caregiver. What you learn over the years, is that the doctors, nurses, therapists, secretaries and techs that who are called to this life, give from their hearts…even when they think they have nothing left to give.

I still have questions. Does anyone notice or appreciate us? Do we give enough to make a difference? What will it all mean, in the end? And then, last night…a simple thank you from an elderly patient put it all into focus.

I think…I hope, I handled everything to the best of my ability. My Dad died with dignity and family at his bedside. I’m reminded of how essential this is, every night I spend with my team—past and present. Thinking all the way back to 1987, it’s  been my blessing and privilege to work with them for more than half my life. I’ve watched them face the darkest hours of the night, fight staggering odds to save a life, comfort patients and their families on the worst days of their lives, and hold a stranger’s hand so they don’t die alone…these quiet people in scrubs are secret angels that walk on earth.

As sad as these months have been, I am sure of one thing. My Dad is no longer trapped in a body that failed him or a mind that imprisoned him. So, if he was met at the door to Heaven by just one more angel…that would be enough for me.