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My darkness is a blanket, but I find it hard to pull around you. It seems it would be easy enough. I could just clutch the two corners and wrap them ‘round your shoulders until they tie together.

 

Knotted, in the middle of your chest.

 

And there they’d hang, the blanket’s twisted ends, weighty over your heart.

 

It’s tempting.

 

I could pull it over your head. Cover your eyes with it. Stop you from seeing me.

 

From seeing anything.

 

Because it’s not one of those thin blankets. The kind that grant grainy particles of light. No peeking through to the other side.

 

Not with this one.

 

Once you’re in it, it’s thick. And heavy.

 

Dense.

 

You won’t see hazy silhouettes through it. No subtle motion. Once you’re under it, it’s black. Bleak.

 

Opaque.

 

No light. No movement. No hope.

 

You’ll ask me to. Even tell me you want the darkness. You’ll beg to be wrapped in it, if you think it will help me. You’ll promise to be okay behind its all-encompassing eclipse.

 

You’d lie if you thought it would ease my burden.

 

I know better. I know what it will do to you. To your spirit. To your sensitive soul.

 

But in the end, I’ll share my blanket with you anyway.

 

Because I’m human. And I need you.

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She flitted in. Almost darting between our gazes. Head bobbing with each move. And I couldn’t stop watching her. She was a delicate little thing. Small. Angular. But still somehow, swooping. Sinuous.

 

She’s out of her comfort zone. It’s easy to see. In certain moments, a colored blur of watery reflection. In others, a precise dot on the obscure background that is this depressing place. I can tell you though. She’s livened it up just by breezing through. A welcome whisk of vivacity. A thrill for a sad and sorry bunch.

 

A wonder.

 

She continues on. Stopping now and then. Fluttering in her light-tipped way, from this stoop to that. Ignoring the attentions of everyone else. Busying herself. Bending to pluck bits of litter from the floor. Smoothing her sides back down flat.

 

I take in her slender neck. Sloping toward her rounded behind and ending in a graceful point at the tip of her thighs. I put my finger out and trace over it in the air. All the way down to the end. Following her curve with my eye.

 

A sharp noise above the din around us jars her and she ruffles from head to toe. I take a breath, waiting for her to leave me, but she stays. Gathers herself. Keeps moving. Slowly. Delicately. Toward me. My heart skips when I realize how close she’s getting. So close that I can see myself in her pupils. So close that I can feel her warmth. So close that I can smell her scent. And my once skipping heart now batters against its cage.

 

I reach out. To protect. The instinct is strong. But I can’t touch her. She’s just beyond my grasp. I want to call out, but the usual cackles begin around us and she brings her shoulders up over the sides of her head.

 

Shielding.

 

All is concealed but her starry eyes. Their long fine lashes reaching for me. Almost past the crook of her bent, slight limb. And then, they flicker. Those eyes. Right across mine. And lock. Just for a second, mind you. But it’s magic.

 

Changing.

 

Then, as quickly as she came, she’s gone. Off into her other world. And even though I knew she would eventually vanish, it breaks me. Instantly, I drain. Empty.

 

My mind.

My heart.

My soul.

 

As she drifts away into another place. Another time. I am left here.

Paused.

Until her return.

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I’m just in from a coffee shop. Alright. Yes, it was Starbucks. And, surprise, surprise. There were 4 people in there with MacBook Airs. And they looked pretty much how I would’ve looked, had I also brought mine.

 

They were scarfed and sweatered. Fenced in by open books, cords, pens, mugs and, of course, phones.

 

At first, I was envious. Thinking how I long for days of doing nothing but writing. It’s a glorious feeling, you know. To be sure of your purpose. And for it to be something you enjoy. Something you find fulfilling. Albeit scorching and torturous at times.

 

And while I waited for my order, I, for the zillionth time, imagined a world where writing is my only focus. A world, that in reality, will never be. And, that’s okay. In my heart of hearts, I really wouldn’t want that, would I. I mean, where would my family be? Where’s my home in that scenario?

 

I don’t ever want to be without those things. Those distractions as they are sometimes referred to.

 

Anyway, what started as pre-beverage envy ended in post-coffee realization. Not one of those blessed little lambs was actually using their laptops. Every single one of them was on their phone.

 

Texting. Liking. Sharing.

 

Wasting.

 

Using valuable time. Precious, hard-to-come-by freedom. To generate useless statuses and insignificant tweets.

 

But, in truth, I really have no clue what they were doing on their phones. Never mind judging whether whatever they were doing was insignificant or useless. They may have been replying to agent’s proclamations, “CONGRATULATIONS, we sold your novel!” Or throwing out a few likes in support of fellow writers. Perhaps sharing triumphant news of a book deal.

 

Who knows? Like I said, not me. I just tend to make wild assumptions when I’m coffee-deficient.

 

So, I admit to suffering from misplaced projection. Putting myself in their chairs. Surrounding my own being with beloved writing gear. Staring into productivity-stealing space. And spending too much time on a phone of my own.

 

But luckily, the coffee-sufficient me sees the advantage to having, what one might call, an overactive imagination. Next trip, the phone stays in my pocket.

 

What? You didn’t think I’d turn it off, did you!

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I need a fake blog. One where I can post to my heart’s content without anyone knowing who wrote the posts. Why, you may wonder. Well, because post post seems to be the optimum time for me to see the errors of my ways with pure and utter clarity …the many, many errors.

 

It happens every time. I write for hours. I read and reread. I edit. I edit some more. I perfect. I post.

 

I repent.

 

Last week I had to write another short story within 48 hours as part of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. My assigned genre was Science Fiction, my location, a park fountain, my object, a paper airplane.

 

Now, Sci-fi is truly not my thing. I don’t read it and I certainly don’t write it and I admit that writing it in 48 short hours would have been challenging. However, writing it in 5 hours was downright ball-busting.

 

You’re sent your prompt at midnight on a Friday and you have until midnight on Sunday to submit a 1000-word (max) story that includes all of the elements you were given. As luck would have it, I had commitments pretty much all weekend. I do, after all, consider taking my 3 kids downtown for the entire day to eat, watch a movie and enjoy a live soccer game a priority.

So by the time we got home I was exhausted and convinced myself I’d get up at 5am to start writing Sunday morning. And I did. I got up at the crack of dawn, but when I got downstairs, I decided that getting the laundry corralled, sorted and spinning was yet another priority.

 

I could write in between cycles, right?

 

Well, there’s not as much time in between laundry cycles when you’re trying to get something done, as there is when you’re in a frazzled frenzy waiting on your favorite jeans to dry before you’re due to meet a friend.

 

And then there was the tidying so that the cleaning I needed to do later would be faster. There was an event scheduled to take place at my house the next morning, so Sunday required some home TLC and as we all know, less clutter equals quicker results.

 

I started writing at 12.

 

I finished writing at 5.

 

5 agonizing hours of trying to wrap my mind around the Sci-fi genre, of trying to hurry, of fretting over the impending cleaning, of wondering what dinner would be and who was going to make it, of not hearing what I was reading anymore, of trying to get it right. Of freaking out. Of torture.

 

Anyway, here’s a link to my story just how I submitted it.

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Missing Love

 

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He fills with words that will only reach the earth, he’s been warned, should they carry their weight in truth. The sweat of his pudgy finger crimps the creases he’s so carefully bent, and he pulls himself in tight, hurdling his most sincere spirit into what he must believe, is an accepting unknown…

 

It can be hard to remember how something began. Details fuzzy and timing, non-specific, but Elian and Luna are not spared in this way. The moment that first child disappeared is forever cut into their hearts. After all, watching someone fade is not easily forgotten. Laughing one minute and evaporating like a recalled raindrop the next, hangs heavy in the atmosphere.

 

At one time, this small town had been a home. Long before despair scraped its way to the core with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, they’d slept on cozy beds inside colorful houses and shrilled as they’d swung high enough for their toes to touch the moon. They’d trailed fingertips in the park fountain and sacrificed their pennies for precious wishes.

 

But children continued to vanish. Panic rose. Terrified mothers fictionalized mass killings and undiscovered bodies. Fathers waited with shotguns at the ready for evil that would never show its face. Paranoia and mourning became their way of life.

 

Time passed and slowly, the township reached a decision to understand it rather than to fight. And as they deliberated ideas, they became shamefully aware that the departed were solely the ones conceived without love. The conceptions cultivated from seeds of greed, selfishness or pride, some spawned out of lust or envy. They determined that not one of the lost had blossomed from a pure moment of tenderness.

 

True to human nature, they were eager to replace what was gone, to fix what was broken. They attempted to conceive through despair, but their still loveless efforts refused to bear the fruits they once had and a relentless darkness swathed their barren souls.

 

Now, unearthly quiet fills the creeks and crevices as Elian and Luna make their way to the fountain. Swings sway loosely in the intermittent wind, their rusty chains straining against a tongue-tied backdrop. The two make their way through the littered streets, Luna’s fingers curving around Elian’s palm, long and loose like the limbs of a weeping willow.

 

The park is so much smaller than when they were young. The surrounding fence halts at their shins and they now loom over the jungle gym they couldn’t quite conquer at three feet tall. Roots from the massive Oaks have thrust up through the dusty earth and turned the timeworn slide upside down. A carousel is cocked on its side, a discarded toy on a vacant nursery floor.

 

But, today is unlike any other time they’ve ambled this path. The waterless fountain urges them on, the air surrounding it fused with static and a vibrating hum that pulls them to it much like the tow ropes used to haul them up to the highest mountaintops. With no words, they each hear what the other is thinking. With one glance, they feel what the other is feeling. With one touch, they each want what the other is wanting.

 

They are one.

 

Elian turns and presses his lips to Luna’s forehead. They stand this way for some time, paused in the moment between what was, what is and what could be. Most had given up, some had moved on, others, simply bided their time, withering to ash between their sheets, but Luna and Elian only got stronger, looked after one another, grew together.

 

Built a life.

 

They stand at the fountain’s edge with Luna’s coattails flapping in the wind and Elian’s dark curls shifting freely over his brow. He takes her hand in his once more and they wait together while the sky begins to change. Shapes and patterns kaleidoscope into brilliant hues of azure and indigo, folding into amethysts and tangerines. They believe it to be the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen.

 

And it is.

 

Until a small white tip—the nose of a well-intentioned craft—breaks though a slit in the colorful clouds and glides gracefully, softly, silently into their hearts.

 

This is the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen. Luna feels the stir. Elian reaches to touch the swell of colors that have drifted down from the sky to stretch across her belly.

 

“Welcome, little one. This is love.”

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Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills

I was almost a Heidi. However, some distant cousin, thrice removed, whom I haven’t seen since I was six and was not actually related to at the end of the day anyway, was born mere weeks before me and snagged the name first.

 

Who’da thunk?

 

So my mother figured calling me after her favorite teen actress was a much better idea and I ended up a Hayley instead. And because we are of that befuddled British bunch, that name was never used. 
I have been called by my middle name my entire life. Yes, right from the get-go. A name my parents thought they’d made up. My dad’s name with an a on the end, Alana. (Rhymes with Savannah, never to be confused with banana) And really, there was not one other Alana to be found in my early years; I’ll give them that. In fact, I didn’t meet another Alana until I was fourteen, which in child years, is an entire lifetime.

 

Not to offend all the Heidi’s of the world—it’s a lovely name—but I’m glad I’m not one of them. A name not only states who you are, it can shape who you become and I am who I am because I had to repeat my name several times when meeting someone new. Because I had to enunciate it slowly and clearly over and over—painful for a shy young girl. And because I was made fun of by kids who feared all things new and foreign. 
I’ve evolved and strengthened a certain way because I wasn’t one of the five Lisa’s in the class, just as the Lisa’s are who they are, in part, because they had to vie for individual identity at every turn.

 

Branding someone is a hefty task. One loaded with potential and possibility. Obviously, we’re given our names at birth, sometimes even before, and rarely do we get to pick them. In combination with many things throughout life, we are kneaded with the experiences and interactions we have because of our names.

 

This is why they often bring me to a halt. I’ll be plodding along; engrossed in creating an opening scene, and…urrrrch…I need a name. It sometimes stops me for hours. I have even been known to write short stories in such a way that I don’t need to name anybody. Not a single character. Sometimes it’s a copout; sometimes it just works well with the tone of what I’m writing.

 

So you can imagine I had an agonizing time creating the name for my blog. Looking back on my “brainstorm list” now is embarrassing. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to write about—ahem, we need not note that not much has changed there—so picking a name for it was, needless to say, challenging. 
I’m a Make-up Artist by trade and beauty blogs are extremely popular, but I figured out early on that I didn’t want to start off writing about beauty, or, be pigeon-holed to just that one topic at the very least. 
So in the end, Hazy Shades of Me was born from a combination of my indecisiveness, much play on the metaphorical and cosmetic connotations of shades and shadows, my desire to be as uncommitted to one subject as I possibly could, and, of course, my long-lost first name.
 

Maybe you pick names that have meaning for you? Or for your character? Or your subject or story? Perhaps your storyline determines your decisions? 
Do you decide on the fate of your subjects before their birth or after? Maybe they tell you who they are, or do they mold to the names you chose for them? Have you ever changed a subject’s name mid-way through?

 

By some miracle, I have never, ever, had one pang of regret for the decisions I’ve made in naming things that cannot be changed—my children, my pets or my blog. Someone clearly has my back in that department, for which I am eternally grateful.

 

As a writer, I know there are many different answers to the questions I’m asking and that they will even vary coming from the same person, depending on which story or topic they’re writing or referencing.

 

I’m curious. How do you name the important things in your world?

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This piece is part of the NYC Flash Fiction 2015 writing challenge I’ve entered. We were given our group assignment, genre, setting/location and an item at the stroke of midnight and then had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story inclusive of this criteria. My criteria turned out to be Romantic Comedy, a recording studio and a Cactus. This is what I came up with: (*warning – profanity)

 

This To That

I smell it as soon as I walk in—creepy incense rolling down the dim halls, bouncing off the photo-filled walls, air punching at my already aching head.

 

“What the fuck?” I reel from the stench that seems to be seeping quickly into my skin and making me contemplate hurling into the big standing plant pot by the door.

 

“Yeah, sorry dude. The chick in 4C is burning some voodoo shit or somethin’. She’s real hot though.” Phil looks at me across the counter guiltily. “I was gonna tell her to stop, but she came out right then and caught me snubbing my butt, so I kept my mouth shut.”

 

My own cigarette dangles from my dry lips and I prop my elbows up, waiting for him to pass me the book. My leather jacket creaks as I move to lower my shades and my hand trembles when I reach for the pen to sign in.

 

“One too many?” Phil asks with a scoff, mostly ‘cause he already knows the answer.

 

“Maybe. Maybe ten too many. I can’t really remember.”

 

“Well, you’re here now. If you’re up for it, you can head on in. 4B is yours.”

 

“Coffee made? The boys’ll be here any minute and I need a brew bad.”

 

“Made it myself.” Phil says all proud. “Miss Spritz there ain’t drinkin’ it though. Brought in her own Jasmine tea or some kinda shit.”

 

I make my way down the hall, grab a coffee and stop at 4B, as close to 4C as you can get. Even 4D is across the way. But 4B and 4C share a glass wall, so as soon as I walk in, a stronger version of the incense I’d smelled outside the room smacks me in the face. I slump into one of the chairs, swivel to face the control board and kick my feet up onto the ledge, taking a deep sip of scalding coffee.

 

The panel comes to life and the big green button flashes.

 

“How’s the java?” Phil was always scrounging for praise, usually while being a smartass. “Made sure it was extra hot.” His voice crackles through the speaker. “A sore tongue’ll stop ya thinkin’ ‘bout yer head.”

 

I lean forward and press the green button down as my boots hit the floor with a thud. “It stinks in here.”

 

“That sucks, Mickey, but I ain’t riskin’ it. She tells Joe I was smokin’ at the front desk and he’ll have my ass. Let her burn her shit. She’s only booked for a few hours.”

 

The button goes red.

 

I close my eyes and swirl around to face the window. 4B looks insane. I slip my aviators down my nose to make sure I’m not seeing things. This chick has actually changed out the regular spotlights for purple and orange bulbs. Amidst hues of eggplant and cantaloupe, I can see plumes of fine smoke drifting through the air. She’s brought in her own rugs and they’re scattered everywhere. Her back is to me. She’s at the mic, moving her arms in time with sounds I can’t hear.

 

Is that a Cactus? I swear that wasn’t

 

Green button. “Dudes aren’t here yet, Mickey. You want me to sit in for a bit?”

 

“Yeah, man. I gotta lay down this track. I don’t know how much longer I can stick.”

 

Phil appears instantly, always eager to be in on things.

 

“Phone’s set to voicemail an’ I’m all yours, sunshine.” His widely spaced teeth create something of a Cheshire grin as all six foot four of his lanky physique folds through the doorway.

 

“I guess I’m up.” I force myself out of the chair, each cell of my body angry at the disturbance.

 

As I open the glass door of the sound booth, she turns as if sensing me. All at once, her chestnut curls, saucer eyes and doll-like skin are caught in shades of maroon and burnt gold and, she’s breathtaking.

 

No, literally, I can’t breathe.

 

She gives a cute little wave. And then again, beckoning me over.

 

Oh God, I think. I am so not up for this.

 

“Hey!” She glows as I come cautiously through the door. “I hope you don’t mind.” She opens her arms and twirls slowly around the room. “It’s not too distracting?”

 

“I, uh, no. No, not at all.” A cold sweat comes over me and with horror, I realize I might actually hurl.

 

“You do not look well.” She notices and I feel sincere concern. “You want to sit?” Gesturing to a plush purple chair I’ve never seen before, she takes my arm and moves me.

 

Again, literally.

 

Before I know it, she has my jacket and boots off and my feet up on some marshmallow-looking thing.

 

“I’m Daphne. Daphne Dane.” She offers her hand but I’m too mesmerized by the flecks of sky in her lavender eyes and the thick black lashes that hit the tops of her cheeks every time she looks down.

 

“Daph,” a voice over the speaker, “I need your okay for that last one.”

 

“Oh, just play it. I’m listening.” She’s curled some kind of beanbag around my neck and is on her way over to the Cactus when a voice unlike anything I’ve ever heard fills the studio. A cappella.

 

She’s humming along, eyes fluttering, clearly taking mental note as she begins to lightly burrow a Cactus needle between my brows.

 

“Umm, hey! What…”

 

“You just never know when these will come in handy,” she explains. “To relieve your headache?”

 

Phil gapes through the window in awe.

 

She skips to her mic. “Josh, another cup of that Ginger tea if you would be so kind?” Heading back to me, “A bit of acupuncture and a touch of Ginger will have you right as rain.”

 

This isn’t how I foresaw my morning, but I cannot believe my luck. Melting into the chair, I let her work her magic while trying to figure where to take her for lunch.

 

I’m thinking organic.

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