Grey Smoke and Pine

This was a class exercise in which we had to write a war scene. Seeing as how I have only witnessed war through the eyes of others and our pop culture, I was a bit out of my element. It was also a difficult subject to write about due to the content and emotions I was finding myself having to deal with as I became attached to the main character. So, without further adieu, I give you Grey Smoke and Pine.

They never said it would be so cold. The dirt and tears on my face have molded into a thick frozen paste and I can’t feel my toes. Are they still there? My lips are cracked and bleeding and I can’t remember the last time I had a bite to eat or felt water filling my mouth. My throat is so dry and I long to hear a familiar voice. I’m all alone in this ditch, with its hard earth cutting into my back. The smell of pine helps to ease the stench of death and memories. I just need to hold out until the sky empties herself of the metal vultures, for I have a letter to deliver.

It was supposed to be a routine raid made with two other platoons. While we thought ourselves to be so clever, we hadn’t anticipated the enemy knowing our plans. It wasn’t until we heard the gunfire and distant screams, that we realized our mistake in believing in our own bluster and courage. Our commanding officer was yelling for retreat when the sound of God taking a flying leap off of Mount Everest came from the southwest corner of the ancient Capital. The horror etched on the faces of the brave men next to me, will haunt me for the rest of my days.

The delivered bomb, cut a mile and a half radius across the grand city. I don’t think we walked more than an eighth of a mile before we came across the dusty debris of fallen stone, wood, and brick. Moaning voices, screams of agony, and the hummed silence of the fallen, mingled with the floating grey mist of blood and flesh. I was numb. This was a dream. I kept pinching myself to see if I would wake up in my room with the picture of Betty Page on the ceiling, but my youth filled prayer was never heard. We continued to stumble through the streets, looking for familiar faces, only to find dogtags lying on the ground next to what once was a human. We collected what we could, knowing that a letter would be sent out to the closest relative. In my selfish thoughts, I was grateful they wouldn’t have to send a letter out for me.

We split into twos in order to find as many of our fallen, before heading back to base. Lucien and I had been friends since primary school and were assigned together to wade through the northwest portion of the city in search of survivors and dogtags. The silence stretched out before us as we kept our heads down and our ears alert. Our moods didn’t lighten as we came across solitary limbs aching to be sewn onto their owners now missing frame. There were no children laughing as we passed a swing that had been attached to the lower limb of a tree, now only a broken stump lying lifeless against Mother Earth. Lucien was kicking up stones and dirt when his foot collided with the unseen undetonated grenade in his path. He was thrown to the ground as I watched in stunned terror, knowing that I couldn’t stop what was coming next.

The fifty or so feet that I ran to get to him seemed like a mile. It wasn’t until I had him cradled in my arms that I realized that the lower half of both of his legs were missing and several pieces of shrapnel protruded from his abdomen. He clung to me as he repeated his mothers name, grabbed my hand in our secret handshake, and took his last breath while uttering “home”. I was choking. I screamed at the sky with mournful agony, cursing our Almighty Father, for his mercy had only caused me sorrow. I took off Lucien’s tags and placed them around my neck, gently picked him up, placed him over my shoulder and began the walk back to where the rest of my platoon planned to meet. When no one was to be seen, I set myself into a deep ditch on the side of the road and laid Lucien next to me. There was a small pine tree that I used for more shelter as I waited for their return.

January wind seeps into my bones as the jets fly overhead. I tune my ears to hear the soft crunch of boots upon frozen earth. The platoon is creeping closer and I will soon hear the hushed voices of lost innocence, fear, and sorrow. My toes are numb and my face hurts with the frozen mask of blood and tears. Thirst and hunger are racking my body and for the first time in my life, I can’t bring myself to pray.

Desires of the Flesh

Oh, how the night sizzles with mustiness and warmth left from a humid day. I feel myself drifting through the air like a cottonwood seed and I’m surrounded by the sounds of buzzing and chirping of things unseen in the thicket.  There is a sweet and earthy tang on the breeze and I can’t control my mouth from watering. What is that delicious scent?  I follow my nose into darkness. I see a light ahead and voices. I hear voices on the air. Is that music?  There is a low bass resonating from the open window I can now see, for my eyes have adjusted to the light. There is a crackling of fire and the laughter of someone sitting in a chair and tipping back a bottled beverage. There it is again. That sweet earthy tang. Oh how I need to be near it. I float down from my vantage point and find purchase on a soft surface. What is this velvety goodness beneath my feet? The scent is so strong now, I can taste it. Without warning, I am thrown roughly into the air. I can’t seem to tell which is up and which is down. An angry female voice growls and spits as she stomps off in the direction of the house.

I am once again like the cottonwood seed when I smell something so painfully acidic that my eyes begin to water. The sweetness! Oh the sweetness has gone. I breathe deeply and still no signs of that beautiful tang that had made my mouth water. I decide to take a break from my musings and head back to the thicket where the fireflies are floating on the air making the night look like a midsummer dream. I follow the the sound of low buzzing and come across thousands that look just like me. How can this be? Do they also smell the sweetness? Would they let me join their group so we can find it together?  I am melancholy in my lack of sophistication. I am not overly social you see.

As if my inner voice was broadcasting through a megaphone, more than a dozen of them turned and looked at me with glazed eyes and an understood hunger.  They wanted the sweet smell just as much as me. The urge to go back and battle the acidic stench that stung my nose was overwhelming. Now. Now, I had an army of others like me. We could conquer it together. In unison we slowly drifted towards the fire. The fog. The fog that stole my breath was taking the others down. I feel detached from myself and I seem to be moving in slow motion. My feet are leaden and there is no one to catch me as I jump off a bridge into the dark abyss. Just when I think all hope is lost, the air clears and the sweet smell comes rushing to my nasal passage. There are now only a few of us left. The fog has lessened our ability to attack.

The haziness in my head has slowly subsided and I find myself once again with glazed eyes and a watering mouth.  My single-minded ambition has turned again to the sweet smell and it takes all of my strength to float like the cottonwood seed again to find my purchase on the sponge like softness that I was so rudely brushed off of earlier. I breathe in deep. Oh that lovely scent. With the shaky excitement of a child on Christmas morning, I steady myself to plunge in. To take the sweet smell and turn it into the sustenance that my body so craves. I raise my head and just when I’m about to pierce the soft flesh, I am once again brushed into the air. As I gain my bearings again, I realize that the sweet smell is running away from me. The profanity that ensues is nothing less than legendary as the small group of party goers dowses the fire and makes for the house. I have been thwarted yet again. However, not all is lost, for there are still many more nights of summer left and I am most patient.

To Judge a Book by Its Cover

I am a bookseller.  I am that pesky sales person that can convince you to buy a book or to put it back on the shelf and forget that you ever picked it up.  However, for those moments that there is no bookseller to be found and you’re browsing the shelves for that treasure; that one book that will change your life, personality, and pant size or simply take your mind away from the daily stress of being human; what is it on the front of the book that makes us want to read the synopsis on the back?  Is it the woman with the heaving bosoms being ravished by a shirtless man with pectoral muscles the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s in his prime? Or maybe it was the cyborg standing with a gun while looking back at a city destroyed by war that made you reach for that new mass market paperback? Could it be the title itself? Was the font bold and beautiful?  Or did you simply come into the bookstore to buy the latest book that everyone was talking about and the cover didn’t matter in the least? Marketing departments have to ask these questions every day and make decisions based upon those questions. The cover of a book has to also entice a particular audience. Is the title meant to attract a male or female? Is it geared towards a teen boy or girl?  I have witnessed children and adults alike put a book that I have passionately described to them back on the shelf simply because they didn’t like the cover and no amount of my sales expertise was going to persuade them. I have also convinced several people to believe they need a twenty dollar picture book just for the beauty of its illustrations.  We humans have become a picky lot and need visual stimulation.  If we don’t find something attractive to our own eyes, we have the tendency to pass it by.  This however can be a good thing, for it makes the artists and marketing departments improve their talents and stay current.


The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith was originally written in the early 1990’s. In 2007 the books received a new look for a new generation of teens and of course attracted those who had become obsessed with the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer.  If they had been released with the original covers, I have no doubt that sales would have gone in a completely different direction. Christopher Pike, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Orson Scott Card, Madeline L’Engle, Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary are to this day well loved authors, but would their books sell as well if they had the original cover art?  Gone are the days of long haired muscle men being placed on the cover of every romance novel and little green men on every science fiction title.  Teen books no longer have girls with mall hair and tight rolled jeans but have moved onto boys with dark brooding good looks or girls showing just their facial profiles.  Cover art and illustrations can make or break a perfectly good book. A childrens picture book could have the sweetest story to tell, but if the illustrator doesn’t do his or her job, that book will end up on the out of print list rather quickly.  With adult books it’s no different. A man will pick up a graphic novel with Wonder Woman’s breasts ready to pop out, but it’s the women that will pick up the paperback book with a woman in a tight dress, thigh high boots, and a bloody knife in her hand. Both covers show off a sexy image and yet the interest is divided by gender.


I have been doing my job long enough to know just by looking at a cover; the kind of person that is going to pick the book up to enjoy it and who is going to mock it with their nose in the air.  Some may call it stereotyping, some may call it pompous or egotistical, some may just tell me that I’m good at what I do. I can also tell by the body language of a child as to whether or not a book suggestion is going to be ignored or picked up with excitement.  I can look at the teen books coming into my section and usually tell without looking at the back as to what genre in teen it’s going to be placed into and whether or not the buyer at the corporate office is new to their job due to it being coded incorrectly.  That is the power of judging a book by its cover. That is the power of an artist and marketing department to entice, persuade, sell, or con a person into thinking that the book is going to change their life or just entertain them for a weeks worth of reading before going to bed.


Books I find are like wine, no one should ever tell you what you should like.  Like a spicy cabernet it doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy to be enjoyable. Sometimes the most simplistic covers make for the best books.  Sometimes the ones that receive the most praise are really as good as everyone says, while others may have you tearing your hair out and wishing for those hours of your life back. Never doubt the power of the consumer.


So, we will continue to judge books by their covers. We will base entire conversations on the silliness of titles and the beauty of Dave McKeans art on the cover of a Neil Gaiman graphic novel.  We will fall asleep to a book that a friend has recommended to us and wonder why the cover of that book shows the main character with blonde hair when the author describes her as having red.  We will curse Hollywood for destroying the image that we had in our head of a beloved character and laugh at the half eaten face on the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  As for e-readers, they are the perfect tool to not have people judge you by the cover of the book that you’re reading and allow for those guilty pleasure reads that so many of us try to deny ourselves.  No matter how you decide on that perfect book, keep it up, for it helps to expand the minds of the artists that help you to judge the cover and us booksellers on our toes wondering what the customer will go for next.


2011 Can Suck It and Other Rants for the New Year

I can honestly say that I am in no way sad or sorry to see 2011 go.  With the downs outweighing the ups for the year, I was ready to begin fresh.  If I’m being honest, there were several ups also, but those ups always seemed to have a bit of a shadow over them.   After reading about and talking to several friends and family members, 2011 seemed to be a year of unrest for a lot of people.  So,  I’m taking advantage of it being a new year and making some improvements on myself.  The cliches of resolutions have always bothered me a bit, because people never seem to follow them through. I myself am no better at it.  However, I felt a need to make a few this year.  I’ve been going on and on over the last couple of years about how I have to start writing more and then I post about it and then don’t follow through.  I talk about how I need to lose weight and I need to go back to school and I don’t seem to get anywhere.  I’m angry and tired of a job that continues to suck the soul out of me.  I hate picking up after other people and their children. People have become so blinded by their actions.  They wonder why their children act the way they do, but they can’t seem to see that teaching those children the basics of manners and respect help to shape them into compassionate and thoughtful adults.  What happened to the “you break it you buy it” mentality?  I remember my mother telling us kids to keep our hands in our pockets and to touch nothing.  We didn’t always follow those instructions, but we were gentle with the things we touched because we knew that we would be in big trouble if we broke anything.  With today’s generation I’ve watched so many parents let their kid run the show.  I see it all the time.  The parents ignore the kid while they trash items that they haven’t purchased and then just leave it with no apologies.  My mother and father would have had a fit if we had done that!  Now that I have completely gotten off topic, because really, my rants about my work place could go on forever, let’s get back to the reason I started writing this in the first place. It’s time to make some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes as David Bowie would say.  It’s time to turn a new leaf, suck it up and stop procrastinating.  The only person holding me back is ME and I’m ready to have a throw down.   Now that I have a laptop at my finger tips whenever I want, I no longer have the excuse as to why the hell I’m not writing.  I have a CLEP guide, so there is no excuse as to why I can’t get my ass into take the Accuplacer Test at GRCC.  I have warm gear for going walking and running in the winter so I have no excuse as to why I can’t lose weight.  I’m DONE!  BRING IT ON 2012! I’m ready for ya!