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Rite of Fir

December 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , , , , ,

Twig stood silent in the silver light of the full moon, listening to the rustle of mice or maybe voles in the dried grasses and brown leaves around her. No snow yet, but with the crystal clarity of the December night sky slowly being consumed by the advancing clouds, it was likely by morning.

Dipping into the deep shadows of the trees, she walked quickly back to the cabin. The stack of wood on the porch should be enough to last through the storm. 

In the smaller of the two bedrooms, Kayla lay asleep, snoring softly. Twig closed the door to the room and brought in more wood from the porch for the fire. 

picture of a bridge in a snowy forest

It was nearly midnight, and Charlie had yet to show up. Just like him, to promise and not deliver. 

Twig decided to wait up in case he texted that he was lost. From the cabinet near the kitchen, she took out twine, cloth ribbon and glue. She’d make a köknar, for the season, even if just for their short stay. Her grandmother had taught her how when she was nine, and Twig had made one every year since then. One day she would show Kayla how to make her own.

She set her supplies on the coffee table and sat cross-legged on the rag rug to begin her work. The bough of balsam fir she’d cut in the afternoon wasn’t exactly the right shape, but Grandma Pati said any shape would work if you looked at it from the right perspective. That was true for many things in life, Twig knew. Like her own situation. 

Likewise, the story of the köknar could be appreciated from different angles, depending on the weaver of the tale. It was a talisman of good luck. Or it represented winter, with the needles and twine standing in for ice and the thread of family and friendship. Or the red cloth ribbon spoke of the new buds of spring, still months away. The version Twig preferred was that the köknar whispered an alluring call to the sun, inviting it to stay aloft a few minutes longer each day.

By the time she heard Charlie’s SUV outside, she had finished the form. When she opened the cabin door to welcome him, the clearing was covered in fresh snow, the flakes still falling thickly. She hung her creation on the nail she’d driven in last year, their first year in that place, free finally from a past that was better forgotten.

Charlie slipped a strap over his shoulder and grabbed the handle of another suitcase. The falling snow turned his head white and speckled his beard.

“You’re here,” she said. Her shoulders relaxed. The weekend would be good after all. 

“The interstate’s a mess,” he said, reaching the porch and setting down his bags. “No cell service. I was afraid I’d have to pull off and spend the night and then come the rest of the way tomorrow. Kayla’s asleep?” 

She nodded. His embrace pulled her tight and she felt him shiver slightly. “You’re cold. Get inside. I’ve kept the fire up, knowing you’d show up soon.”

He paused at the doorway, staring at the köknar. “You made one.” His voice held wonder, and Twig felt her eyes smart. He’d watched her fashion one last winter, asking questions, holding a knot in place while she glued. 

“I did. Just this evening.”

Charlie picked up his bags and smiled at her. “Then we’re safe.” 

As she shut the door after him, Twig briefly touched the woven bough. “Do your best,” she whispered.

Some of Dianna’s Books

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Pressured

November 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , , ,
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Armed with an LED light array half its length, the robotic sub maneuvered closer to the vestimentiferan colony. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of them, it looks like,” Dr. Parish said. “Can you get any nearer?”

“Trying,” Angela said, and sighed in frustration. “The rocky terrain around the vents is tricky. I’m afraid of hitting a jagged outcropping and damaging Deep Fin. We can record from here, and I can boost the magnification. That’s safer.”

“You are now the one in charge of this project?” Dr. Parish said.

Angela said nothing, knowing it was futile to argue with Parish. Besides, she was the pro at controlling the sub unit. Inept at fine controls, Parish nearly crashed it the first few times they had sent it out, and he finally acknowledged that she would be the permanent “pilot.”

She turned on recorder and increased the zoom. At least two meters in length, the tube worms formed dense clumps of slender white cylinders, their deep red gills protruding from the tops. White crabs and other vent creatures clung to the colony like baubles on a giant bracelet.

Parish sighed. “I’d love to spend all of our allotted time on these.”

“But the unit only has about forty-five more minutes before it runs out of battery,” Angela finished. 

While the worm colony drew their attention, it was the vents with their bubbling, superheated water they were more interested in. 

“Go ahead then,” Parish said.

They sat side by side in the control booth aboard the Searcher research vessel in the Pacific. The day was calm, a counterpoint to the excitement Angela felt at finally getting to examine the vents—even if via robotic sub. She had to keep Parish on track. He often drifted, like a boat in a swift current without an anchor.

Slowly, with a delicate tuning of the controls, Angela moved the sub to the vent they had marked on their map. It had formed within the last year, since they had last examined the area, and was remarkable for its size. The monitor registered a rapid warming of the water as the sub inched closer to it. 

Angela, intent on the vent itself, was startled at Parish’s sudden intake of breath. 

“What the hell was that?” he shouted, making Angela jump.

“Where?” She concentrated on maintaining the sub’s location. “On the screen?” When she glanced at him, his eyes were wide, alarmed.

“A figure, but it couldn’t be,” he said. 

She had seen nothing but the rough terrain the sub was navigating. No time to be studying anything else. 

“We’ll run it back later,” she said. Parish must have imagined whatever he thought he saw. “Figure—are you talking human?”

Parish ran a hand over his buzz cut. “It couldn’t be. The pressure down there is like a trash compactor on steroids. But what was it?”

Sensing that Parish was no longer interested in exploring the vents, Angela moved the sub out of harm’s way, slipping back from the rocky outcroppings. “Let’s hold here for a few minutes. I’ll keep a sweep going, and maybe it’ll show up again.” While I’m watching.

“Sure, sure.” Then he fell silent, studying the screen intently.

Angela continued panning the light array across the field of vision. The worm colony lay a dozen meters away, and the rest of the view was the profound darkness of the deep.

A shiver ran down Angela’s spine. He’d probably seen a fish, some odd-ball creature with surprising appendages.

The screen shimmered with momentary static, and when it cleared, she was staring at a face—a human-like face—only centimeters from the sub’s camera. 

Almost as quickly as it appeared, the face vanished, and seconds later, the camera went offline.

“It was there, wasn’t it?” Angela whispered, more to herself than Parish. 

“I saw it,” Parish said. “We both saw it.”

Looking at the readouts from the sub’s controls, Angela felt sick. “We’ve lost more than the camera feed. All connection to Deep Fin has been severed. It’s gone.” And how many millions of dollars gone with it? She and Parish were responsible.

As if reading her mind, Parish clapped her on the back. “Yes, it’s a huge loss, but the flip side is, the world will be at our doorstep the minute we release the footage. Unbelievable. We’ll be heroes.”

Angela hoped he was right.

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Hi, May I Help You, Please

November 25, 2022 by in category Infused with Meaning by Kidd Wadsworth tagged as , , , ,
Photo by Mike on Unsplash

I was sixteen and working my first job at Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers. We were a lively crew. Jerry had the front register, Juanita and Javier were making sandwiches and scooping fries, Greg had the grill, and I was on the back register.

It was a hot day, scorching hot, hot as only Texas does hot, when the big boss, the district supervisor, left his skyscraper in Dallas and drove down to inspect and grade us. He didn’t know, and didn’t care, that we enjoyed the camaraderie of our team, took pride in our work, and routinely invited our family and friends to come to the restaurant. His opinion of us was all too clear in the way he strutted about, his huge smile never touching his eyes. It didn’t matter that the restaurant ran like a well-oiled machine; we were lazy hoodlums that needed to be whipped into shape. After he’d chastised Jerry and the others for trivial mistakes—I believe Javier wasn’t properly using the pickles to spread out the ketchup on the bun—the district supervisor meandered on back to my register to judge me.

Just so you know, I might have inherited a bit too much Texas ornery, Texas gall and Texas stubborn. Of course, I personally don’t think a person can have too much ornery. And gall, life is just plain boring without gall. Stubborn though . . . well . . . stubborn does tend to get a person into trouble.

Ding.

I stepped on the pedal. “Hi, may I help you please?”

Through the speaker came a broad Texas accent I easily recognized, “Yeah. I’ll have fries, a large Sprite, a single, with cheese, tomato, everything and extra ketchup.”

Reader, are you paying attention? The customer said, “Everything and extra ketchup.” Javier, standing not ten feet away, ears pricked to the speaker, laid a bun open on the sandwich board. Greg dropped a single patty of meat dripping melted cheese onto the bottom half of the bun.

I wrote the order down on the outside of the takeout bag. Fries, lg sprite, single, cheese, tomato, everything, no mustard, no mayonnaise.

Right on cue, know-it-all-supervisor-guy spoke, “He said extra ketchup, not no mustard, no mayonnaise.”

I didn’t bother to turn my head and look at him. No, that would’ve been polite. Instead, I opened the bag and put it on the end of the sandwich station and spoke with my back turned toward him. “But he meant no mustard, no mayonnaise.”

Without seeing the supervisor’s face, I knew his fake smile was history. Tension vibrated from his body. After all, time was running out. The car would begin rolling forward any second. If he wanted to clarify the order—

“Ask him if he wants mustard and mayonnaise.”

At the sandwich station, Javier never paused. He kept right on making the sandwich—with no mustard and no mayonnaise. I always liked Javier. Juanita dropped the fries into the open sack and gave me a wink.

The district supervisor repeated, “Ask him if he wants mustard and mayonnaise.”

“I will not,” I said, pulling the drink. “He’s already given me his order.”

The beast shoved me aside and stepped on the pedal. “Sir, would you like mustard or mayonnaise on your sandwich?”

The customer’s loud Texas twang echoed through the speaker, “NO! I told ya, I only want ketchup!”

I tried and failed, to keep the grin off my face. Javier chuckled as he put the neatly wrapped hamburger in the bag.

Yeah, we were only teenagers, working a summer job for minimum wage, but we knew how someone from our hometown ordered a hamburger.

You know, that big boss, that supervisor guy from the corporate office, he didn’t say another word to me all day. Sometimes you’ve just gotta love that Texas stubborn.

Kidd has stories in the following anthologies.

Kidd Wadsworth is also the author of the fantasy novel “The Death of Magic” which you can now read for FREE at https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/59915/the-death-of-magic

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What You See . . .

October 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , , , ,
Photo by Dirk Ribbler on Unsplash

After three sleepless nights, Damian had the bad luck to draw the early shift at Fitzy’s Diner. His eyes were slits as he broke egg after egg for omelets and poured round after round of batter for pancakes. 

“Hurry it up, Dame!” Fitzy shouted from the kitchen doorway. “This ain’t no five-star dive.” 

“Shove it,” Damian wanted to shout back. But he had rent and a late car payment earmarked for his next paycheck. He was six months clean, and Fitzy, with his sharp eyes and weasel nose, was looking for any excuse to send him back to the streets—or that’s the way it seemed to Damian, who could never move fast enough to please the boss.

When Fitzy slipped back through the swinging doors, Damian turned his focus to the griddle, scraping it for the next omelet. That’s when the spiders crawled out from behind the stovetop, into the pool of melted butter, and skated across the hot surface. Five of them—big, hairy, and long-legged, with eyes that stared him down. 

“Jesus,” Damian half-yelped. How is this possible, he thought. He hated spiders. Too many legs.

When he reached for the whisk, his hand brushed something moving. 

“Aaahh!” This time he yelled. More spiders covered the egg carton and spilled onto the work table.

No, no, no, his mind screamed. Could the hallucinations return even if he wasn’t using? 

“Dame?” It was Helena, on the morning wait staff. She stood in the doorway, concern etched on her face. “You okay?”

Quickly, Damian wiped the sheen of sweat from his face. “Yeah. Just burned myself,” he lied. “Stupid of me.”

She smiled and shook her head. “Be careful. We can’t lose you.” And she was gone, back out to the front counter.

With shaking hands, Damian surveyed the griddle and work tables. The spiders had multiplied, filling the entire stovetop. These couldn’t be real spiders—real arachnids couldn’t survive that heat, could they? Yet he could hear the minute scrape of their feet as they moved. 

He shut his eyes tightly, willing the hallucination to cease. I can’t lose this job.

The paranoia that had been his every waking moment—and often every moment of attempted sleep—had finally driven him to rehab. He could no longer live constantly looking over his shoulder. His counselor had assured him the effects of the inhalants he’d once craved had subsided for good—but maybe they’d been wrong.

The swinging doors squeaked, and he opened his eyes to Fitzy’s bark. “Where’s the short stack and ranchero special?” 

The spiders now covered the mixing bowl with its batter and the bacon Damian had planned to fry up next. He shuddered at the expanding multitude. 

Fitzy grabbed his shoulder, hard, and jerked. “Get moving or you’ll be moving on out of here.”

The spiders descended from the bank of overhead lights and dropped onto Fitzy’s head, swarming down his neck and onto his bare arms. Red welts from their bites began to swell.

After a moment of indecision, Damian removed his apron, hung it on its wall peg, and left the kitchen to Fitzy’s screams.

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Wingspread

April 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , , ,
Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash

Darci waved the embossed certificate under her sister’s nose. “Don’t you realize it’s a red-letter day? I’m not letting you mess this up.”

Grabbing at the cream-colored document, Kara tried to take it from Darci, and in the brief tug, the paper ripped in two.

“No!” Darci shouted.

Startled at her sister’s vehemence, Kara dropped her half, and Darci snatched it.

“I didn’t mean for it to tear.” Kara regretted that she’d reacted in anger. “But I still don’t like it.”

Darci breathed out slowly. She set the two torn halves on the coffee table, fetched the roll of clear tape, and knelt to patch the rift, all the time ignoring Kara. When she was done, she sat back on her heels and held the certificate up to inspect it.

“It’s still ruined, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m going. You can’t stop me.”

No, she couldn’t, Kara knew. “I just wish you would reconsider.”

“Never,” Darci said, underlining the word with a scowl. 

“Ever since Mom died, you’ve been . . . ” Kara tried to put words to her observation. “It’s almost like you have a death wish.”

With her scowl deepening, Darci stood up. She hugged the patched paper, wrapping her arms tightly across it. “Mom would have wanted me to do this. She trusted me—she trusted both of us to do what we were meant to do. For me, this is it.”

Kara pushed away the memories of those last days of their mother’s life, the IV drip of pain medicine, the odor of bleach, the gaunt frame of the woman who’d brought them into the world. What was it Kara was meant to do? She still had no idea at twenty-five, but Darci was different. Three years younger, she burned with a mission. 

And to be accepted into the Gloved Force was an achievement few people earned. Kara had been astonished when Darci broke the news. Her sister, a Glover. To learn those secrets . . . 

“It’s dangerous.” Kara tried not to sound pathetic. “You’re so young.”

Darci’s face softened. “Life is dangerous. Every single day. You never know which hour will hold your last breath.” She moved across the room to sit next to Kara. Laying the certificate to one side, she picked up Kara’s hand and held it between her own. “If I can do this thing, and I know that I will, and I should die as a consequence, I’ll still be fulfilled.”

Kara saw the steeliness in her sister’s eyes. When did my kid sister grow up? “When do you leave?” 

Darci smiled then, accepting Kara’s olive branch. “Monday.”

In five days. 

“Let me give you something.” Kara brought back from her bedroom a maroon ring box. She ran a finger over the crushed velvet. “This was Mom’s.”

Darci opened the lid and sucked in a gasp. A slim gold band inlaid with three red sparks. 

“Rubies,” Kara said. “‘One for each of us,’ she told me.”

Her sister removed the ring and held it to the light of a lamp, her eyes glistening.

“Mom said to give this to you when you were ready to fledge,” Kara said. “Go fly.”

Some of Dianna’s Books

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